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Shows Like The OC That Drama Fans Need To See

Josh Schwartz's "The OC" follows Ryan Atwood (Ben Mackenzie), a troubled teenager from an unstable home, who's adopted by the wealthy Cohens, who live in Orange County. Ryan adjusts to this life of privilege with the help of new friends: Seth (Adam Brody), his adoptive brother who made geeks cool; the popular and complicated Summer (Rachel Bilson); and Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton), Ryan's first love.

"The OC" became a cultural phenomenon with its mix of drama, melodrama, and humor ("welcome to the OC, b****" is forever emblazoned in our hearts) combined with its sleek style and hip soundtrack that launched careers, as bands like Coldplay would premiere new songs on the show. It wasn't groundbreaking per se — shows like "90210" preceded it by a decade — but it arrived at the right moment as people wanted to lose themselves in this fantasy life of rich people with problems. Shows like "The Hills" and "Laguna Beach" tried to capture "The OC" in a reality setting and it's hard to imagine "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" existing without it. 

Underneath its drama, "The OC" is about people trying to find themselves in a world that doesn't always make sense. Really, it's about how everyone feels like an outsider sometimes, which is why we need family, whatever that may mean. So, if you're looking to tune into something with the same fervor as any young person in the early 2000s did with "The OC," here are some shows to marathon.

Gossip Girl

"Gossip Girl" is basically "The OC's" sister who lives in New York. Based on Cecily von Ziegesar's best-selling book series of the same name and also created by Josh Schwartz, Gossip Girl centers around a group of privileged teenagers attending a New York private school. An anonymous blogger tracks their lives, which is a surprisingly prescient device as the show's 2007 release preceded the rise of social media and internet trolling. Similarly to "The OC," this series offers a heightened depiction of a world that isn't so far off from the lives that some folks actually do live in these wealthy spaces.

"Gossip Girl" uses the same formula as "The OC:" a beautiful cast with great chemistry, a catchy soundtrack, snappy jokes, and a never-ending roller coaster ride of dramas, which made it part of the zeitgeist even if its ratings never quite matched "The OC." The character tropes of the OC are transferred to a New York setting: Blake Lively plays Serena, the seemingly perfect socialite experiencing an existential awakening; Leighton Meester is Blair, number one mean girl and Serena's number one frenemy; and Penn Badgley is Dan, a combination of the nerdy guy plus outsider.

"Gossip Girl" is back on the radar with the standalone reboot, "Gossip Girl," which was released on HBO Max this year, but if you're really missing "The OC," start with the original "Gossip Girl." Before no time, you'll be signing off all correspondence with an "xoxo Gossip Girl."

Dawson's Creek

"Dawson's Creek" premiered in 1998 at the height of The WB's (now CW) teen drama era, which gave the world shows like "Felicity" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." "Dawson's Creek" follows the life of teenage cinephile Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek) and his friends: childhood best friend and love interest, Joey Potter (Katie Holmes), best bro Pacey Witter (Joshua Jackson), and new girl in town, Jen Lindley (Michelle Williams). Set in the picturesque town of Capeside, Massachusetts, "Dawson's Creek" has all the makings of a classic teen show: love triangles, unexpected friendships, plus love, loss, and angst in abundance.

Created by Kevin Williamson (writer of "Scream") "Dawson's Creek" stands out for its witty and meta dialogue, in which its teenage characters sound like adults. But emotions (and hormones) drive the show as it explores the changing relationships between Dawson and others in the creek. "Dawson's Creek" was a hit when it was released, perhaps in part because of the controversy around its "raciness," as its teen characters focused on sex and the series later featured the first gay male kiss on primetime TV. In fact, Proctor & Gamble, one of the original production companies of the show, withdrew its involvement because of this controversial sexy content. Some of these aspects may seem tame now, but "Dawson's Creek" still works as it's a well-written teen drama with a cast of now-famous actors, which has also given the world the excellent meme of James Van Der Beek crying.

Pretty Little Liars

"Pretty Little Liars" is like the thriller version of "The OC." A glamorous cast of teen characters tries to figure themselves out...while being tormented by a psychopath. "Pretty Little Liars" opens with the mysterious disappearance of queen bee, Alison (Sasha Pieterse), whose absence breaks up her close-knit group of friends: Spencer (Troian Bellisario), Hanna (Ashley Benson), Aria (Lucy Hale), and Emily (Shay Mitchell). A year after Alison's disappearance, the estranged friends join forces as they start getting stalked and tormented by "A," an unknown person who threatens to expose their deepest, darkest secrets.

Developed by I. Marlene King and based on Sara Shepard's eponymous book series, "Pretty Little Liars" leans into the mystery element as the Liars get deeper into the question of who "A" is and what they want. Ultimately, like "The OC," it's a show about friendship as these women learn to use each other's strengths and weaknesses to combat "A." The antics of "A" grow wilder as the series goes on and the Liars adapt, changing their own tactics and relying on the old wisdom that there is safety in numbers (and also that when it's dark out and you're being stalked by an unknown person, it is always a great idea to go into a cemetery).

Beverly Hills, 90210

"90210" "invented the teenage soap opera" according to the NY Times as without it, it's hard to imagine shows like "The OC" or "Gossip Girl" existing. Released in 1990 for a ten-season run, this Darren Star and Aaron Spelling behemoth focuses on twins, Brandon (Jason Priestley) and Brenda (Shannen Doherty), whose family moves to Beverly Hills from Minneapolis. Like "The OC's" Ryan, the twins are thrown into this world of privilege and wealth. Their new friends include spoiled jock Steve (Ian Ziering), self-centered Kelly (Jennie Garth), naive Donna (Tori Spelling), geek David (Brian Austin Green), mother hen Andrea (Gabrielle Carteris) and bad boy Dylan (Luke Perry). The issues that "90210" deals with range from love and heartbreak to substance abuse and AIDS (with so much in between).

When "90210" got poor ratings its first season, FOX decided to release the new season over the summer when most other shows were airing reruns. This made the show a global phenomenon ​​and cemented it in pop culture. Jennie Garth and Tori Spelling currently host a 90210-themed podcast; the most recent iteration of the series, "BH90210," was released in 2019; and the question of if you're a Brenda or a Kelly (or a Brandon or a Dylan) continues to be asked today. Of course, aspects of "90210" are now dated but ultimately, it continues to resonate because it's about relationships of all forms. So, grab a soda at the Peach Pit and settle into "90210."

The Fosters

Family is at the heart of "The OC" as Ryan is brought into the Cohens' home and discovers a new family there, and this is the central question of "The Fosters" as well. Created by Peter Paige and Bradley Bredeweg and executive produced by Jennifer Lopez, "The Fosters" focuses on Stef Foster (Teri Polo) and her partner, Lena Adams (Sherri Saum), who form a multiethnic blended family of both biological and adopted children in San Diego. At the start of the show, Stef and Lena are raising three kids when they take in two foster children and the series follows this family's journey of making their own way in the world.

"The Fosters'" focus on family is similar to "The OC's" in that the characters of the parents are as important as those of the kids. Stef and Lena are the lynchpin of the show and provide the guidance and support that they can, much like Sandy Cohen. Sibling relationships are a big part of the series as the dynamics change with the arrival of new foster siblings, Callie (Maia Mitchell) and Jesus (Jake T. Austin in Seasons 1-2, Noah Centineo in Seasons 3-5), who struggle to find a place with Lena and Stef's other children. Unlike some other teen dramas, "The Fosters" offers an intersectional look at the lives of characters who aren't all white or heterosexual and this makes it a great (and necessary) addition to the pantheon of teen shows.

Veronica Mars

Rob Thomas' "Veronica Mars" brings viewers into the beautiful Southern California town of Neptune, where all that glitters isn't gold. Kristen Bell plays Veronica Mars, a bright and curious teenager, whose best friend, Lilly (Amanda Seyfried), gets murdered. Veronica's father is a detective and so she decides to take a page out of his book and become a private investigator herself. Veronica has a knack for figuring things out and it's not long before she starts taking on smaller cases while trying to solve Lilly's murder as well.

"Veronica Mars" combines two seemingly disparate spaces — teenagers and detectives — into one brilliant world that actually makes a lot of sense. After all, teenagers often see things that others don't and also have a tendency to gossip; what better way to find out the scoop than by hanging out in the girls' locker room and hearing about the rager last weekend? Like "The OC," "Veronica Mars" exposes a world of privilege that hides intense darkness underneath. Veronica is an outsider, an ex-cheerleader who moves between the worlds of her wealthy classmates and that of the "underground" and her own family. The series stands out for its amazing cast and writing as it seamlessly combines several genres: teen drama, comedy, and noir to create something totally fresh and new. 

One Tree Hill

"One Tree Hill" is a young adult show that is situated in the world of basketball. Set in the fictional North Carolina town of Tree Hill, the series explores the relationship between two half-brothers: Lucas (Chad Michael Murray) and Nathan (James Lafferty), who compete for positions on their school's basketball team but also wind up competing in all areas of life. The show follows the ups and downs of their relationship as the brothers start out as enemies but grow closer over time. Their world revolves around basketball, family, and love as the teens fall for characters like the complicated cheerleader Peyton (Hilarie Burton), independent musician Haley (Bethany Joy Lenz), and reformed party girl Brooke (Sophia Bush).

Initially, "One Tree Hill" was meant to be a sports drama, geared primarily towards male audiences. The series moved away from that in the second season to focus on the female characters, which opened up the space both in and out of the show. More themes could be addressed and more female viewers could be brought in, although the show still continued to explore themes of masculinity. "One Tree Hill" found that its power is in the courtside drama, not on the court itself and it hit its stride with its focus on relationships and issues of career, pregnancy, and identity, which helped it become one of the more beloved teen dramas of audiences and critics alike


Mike Kelley's "Revenge" brings a classic tale of — you guessed it — revenge to the teen drama genre as a young woman seeks to avenge her father's death. Inspired by Alexandre Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo," "Revenge" centers around Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp), a young woman who moves into a Hamptons beach house next to the uber-rich Grayson family. Emily makes her way into the world of the rich and richer, where nothing is as it seems, including and especially her: her real name is Amanda Clarke and her father was framed by the Graysons for treason. He was sent to prison for life and killed in jail, leading Amanda / Emily to take on this elaborate plan of revenge, where she targets every person implicated in her father's imprisonment and death. The Graysons ruined her life and she's out to ruin theirs.

Similar to "The OC," "Revenge" looks at what it means to be an outsider who's brought into a previously unknown world. Like Ryan, Emily thinks she knows what she's getting into, but soon finds herself drawn into and surprised by this privileged life where some actually do accept her and challenge her beliefs and motivations. "Revenge" was a success, ​ drawing in audiences who'd previously tuned into "The OC" and "Gossip Girl" as it offered similarly glamorous, campy fare with a vengeful twist. If you're in the mood for an "OC" vibe with a dash of murder, betrayal, and double identity plus a sprinkling of the Hamptons, seek out "Revenge."


Chris Van Dusen's "Bridgerton" is an early 19th-century period drama that proves that no matter the time or place, young people have always been dramatic. Produced by Shonda Rhimes and based on Julia Quinn's book series of the same name, the show centers on the aristocratic Bridgerton family, which is headed by the matriarch, Violet (Ruth Gemmell). Violet's eight children all try to find their way in this world of upper class etiquette and debutante balls. The show plays with the tension between public and private as the Bridgertons must deal with gaudy neighbors and nosy socialites. Similarly to "Gossip Girl," "Bridgerton" uses a gossip column to structure the show as a mysterious columnist, Lady Whistledown, keeps track of who's who all around London.

"Bridgerton" updates the genre of British period pieces into something fresh as it's set in an alternate history where people of color are members of this aristocratic society. This decision was based on the debate around the real Queen Charlotte's mixed-race heritage as Van Dusen wondered what it would have looked like had Queen Charlotte been able to elevate other people of color. The show incorporates other modern elements as well, like the female gaze and covers of Ariana Grande songs. "Bridgerton" bridges the gap between the old and new and did so with wild success as it became Netflix's most-watched series. So, dust off your wig, shine your shoes, and tighten the corset to rub elbows with the aristocrats of "Bridgerton."

Ginny and Georgia

"Ginny and Georgia" takes an "OC" meets "Gilmore Girls" approach as it tells the story of a teenager trying to start fresh with her young bohemian mother. After her husband dies, 30-year-old Southern spitfire Georgia (Brianna Howey) moves her two children — 15-year-old Ginny (Antonia Gentry) and nine-year-old Austin (​​Diesel La Torraca) — to a quaint New England town. As the family tries to settle in, the awkward and perceptive Ginny finds herself having to navigate a new school while also dealing with her mom, who sometimes (all the time) acts more like a teenager than she does.

"Ginny and Georgia" adopts a similar fish-out-of-water storyline that the OC has and like that show, it explores the darkness that often underlies the surface of seemingly nice and shiny things. Georgia's past — how she came to be pregnant as a teenager and the direction her life took afterwards — is woven through the show as she and Ginny try to make their way through the present the best they can. The series finds a balance between soapy plot twists and actual issues — Ginny is trying to explore her identity as far as race and sexuality and deal with other teenage experiences — and so it stands out as a teen drama that isn't exactly what it seems.


Just as "The OC" turned a seemingly cookie-cutter place like Orange County into a hotbed of drama and fun, "Riverdale" has turned the wholesome world of Archie comics into a dark, twisted world of mystery, sex, and intrigue. Based on the Archie comics, "Riverdale" follows Archie (KJ Apa), Jughead (Cole Sprouse), Betty (Lili Reinhart), and Veronica (Camila Mendes) as they love each other, fight each other, and discover that there is a whole underworld of secrets in the town of Riverdale.

"Riverdale" incorporates a number of elements to make it a great teen show: a blend of drama, comedy, and mystery, a strong use of music (of course, Archie and the gang love their music), and a self-awareness of both itself and the world outside of it. So, several former teen idols such as Luke Perry and Molly Ringwald appear as parents in "Riverdale," making it feel like they're passing the teen torch down to Archie and friends. Although Riverdale is a CW show, it has found great success on Netflix, which helped bump up viewership 60% for the second season premiere. "Riverdale" has plot twists for days but like "The OC" and other great teen shows, it's really about the issues that many teenagers face everywhere: peer pressure, following in your family's footsteps, changing friendships, substance abuse, and sexual assault. So, crank the jalopy and head on over to "Riverdale" for your next dark teen drama viewing.

Life Unexpected

"Life Unexpected" is about a family learning how to be a family, thanks to the sudden arrival of a teenage daughter. Teenage Lux (Britt Robertson) has been living in foster care her whole life after her mother gave her up for adoption when she gave birth at 16. Lux wants to get emancipated but needs to get her biological parents to sign off on it, so she goes to Portland to find them. She discovers that her father, Baze (Kristoffer Polaha), is a Peter-Pan-like frat boy who runs a bar while her mother, Cate (Shiri Appleby), hosts a radio talk show and is engaged to another man. Rather than emancipate her, the courts put Lux in the custody of Cate, and she, Cate and Baze learn how to be a family the best they can.

"Life Unexpected" falls on the sweeter side of the teen drama spectrum as it focuses on Lux's struggle to find safety and stability and her parents' attempts to give her that. All the characters need to grow up in their own way and the series explores those growing pains with both humor and drama. "Life Unexpected" gives a nod to its teen drama predecessors by casting Shiri Appleby (star of the original "Roswell") and Kerr Smith (Jack from "Dawson's Creek") in these adult roles. Like "The OC," the parents play as important a role here as the kids and Lux's outside perspective shines a new light on this world of Cate and Baze.

All American

"All American" combines "The OC" with "Friday Night Lights" to create a football-fish-out-of-water story. Based on the life of football player Spencer Paysinger, the series follows Spencer James (Daniel Ezra), a star football player at Crenshaw High School who transfers to Beverly Hills High to play on their football team. Spencer has to navigate these two worlds as he tries to find a place for himself and become a leader in Beverly Hills while also taking on responsibilities to his community, family, and friends in Crenshaw.

Unlike "The OC," "All American" focuses as much on Spencer's home and the world he's sometimes forced to leave behind as it does on Beverly Hills. In fact, some of the show's power is in the deeper exploration of South LA, where Spencer's best friend, Coop (Bre-Z), a young butch lesbian, has to live life without her best friend and protector. Beverly Hills, as always, is rich and white and the series doesn't view it with much nuance, but "All American" finds other ways of exploring the tension of Spencer being between two worlds and losing his sense of home. The series is more of a drama and less campy than "The OC" but its exploration of an outsider trying to find his place in the world makes it a great addition to any "OC" fan's watchlist.


"Greek" takes the teen drama genre and brings it to a college setting, where the drama (and parties) are endless. Set at the fictional college of Cyprus-Rhodes, Greek follows members of two fraternities and one sorority as they navigate the rules and rituals of the Greek system. Rusty Cartwright (Jacob Zachar) is a freshman nerd who decides to pledge a frat like his older sister, Casey (Spencer Grammer), who's a popular sorority girl. Hoping that a frat membership will make him cooler and more confident, Rusty quickly finds that the Greek world is something far beyond what he'd imagined.

While "Greek" relies on some stereotypes of Greek life like parties and hazing, it also offers a more three-dimensional portrait of this world with characters like Calvin (Paul James), a closeted gay man who strives to integrate his gay identity with his Greek one. "Greek" sometimes goes into the territory of a soap opera, but it maintains humor throughout and has fun with its ensemble cast. There's no shortage of characters or storylines as Rusty makes new friends and Casey finds herself in a love triangle while also trying to adhere to her duties as an active sorority sister. So, if you've gotten your fill of high schoolers and want to try something fun in the college space, pledge "Greek."


"Everwood" follows a family's attempt to get their lives back on track after the death of their matriarch. Andy Brown (Treat Williams) is a neurosurgeon from New York, who moves his family to a small Colorado town after his wife dies. His teenage son Ephram (Gregory Smith) and young daughter Delia (Vivien Cardone) are fish out of water in this town that's so different from the Big Apple. The Browns get to know their new home and soon become intertwined in the lives of those around them. Ephram in particular struggles with the change as his father is suddenly available in a way he never was before, his mother is now gone, and his heart aches for Amy (Emily VanCamp), who's in love with someone else.

"Everwood" is as much a family drama as a teen one since it revolves around Andy's new life in this town as well. The series leans into drama and melodrama as the Browns find that the tides of the town can change very quickly against them. Issues like pregnancy, drunk driving, and peer pressure emerge as Andy and his family get involved with the people of Everwood (including Chris Pratt in his first television role). Ephram in particular brings audiences into the teenage world as he tries to pursue his dream of being a pianist while also navigating his relationship with Amy. If you're looking for a story of people finding their way in a new, beautiful place, take a trip to "Everwood."