On tonight's episode of The O.C., the clichéd plot device commonly known as Oliver Trask makes a dramatic exit from the hit soap — and not a moment too soon. Fox's first-year dramedy flirted with some serious jump-the-shark territory with its introduction of the cookie-cutter villain, whose only purpose in life was to throw a kink in Marissa and Ryan's blossoming romance. It was a glaring misstep for a show that seems to pride itself on being the thinking person's 90210. To commemorate Oliver's hotly anticipated swan song, we rang up series creator (and recent Writers Guild of America Award nominee) Josh Schwartz to find out what the heck he was thinking.
TV Guide Online: Dude, what were you thinking? Love the show. Hate Oliver. The guy's a cartoon.
Josh Schwartz: That's fair. But I make the argument that his actions are coming from a place of loneliness. He's not like [John] Malkovich in In the Line of Fire, where he's plotting to kill the president. He's a lonely kid, and he's desperate and sad, and in [tonight's] episode, you'll really see that loneliness. And I don't know if that will humanize him enough for you, but for me, certainly, it provided human motivation. And it wasn't just psychosis for the sake of psychosis. That being said, every episode is a learning experience.
TVGO: Do you get why viewers are upset?
Schwartz: Yeah. I've been told that [shows] don't go down a path like this until Season 2. We don't ever want to do the same kind of episode twice. We don't ever want to have things get stale. And I think the alternative, had we kept everything sunny and happy and rosy, people would have gotten real bored. I think in the long run, people will feel like this was done very smartly.
TVGO: Was his exit tonight a knee-jerk response to the backlash?
Schwartz: No. It was always designed as a six-episode arc where we would bring in a character whose circumstances coming into this world were not unlike Ryan's. Everything was a little perverted. Instead of being poor, he was extremely wealthy. Instead of being a good guy, this was a guy with an agenda and a little bit, ummm... not well. He was a lonely, lonely kid who was really going to get in the way and disrupt the relationship between Ryan and Marissa and significantly demonstrate just how tenuous Ryan's relationship is with all of these people. He's still a stranger in this world. And just because he believes something doesn't mean everyone else is going to trust him. And it's gonna kick off the next arc that's gonna take us through the end of the season that's really going to have him question his whole life in this town.
TVGO: The buzz is, you weren't a big fan of Oliver yourself — and that Fox foisted him on you to goose ratings.
Schwartz: Oh, that's not true. I think this story has been great for us. It's been a huge learning experience for me, just in terms of the amount of controversy this character has raised. But for everyone who has said what you said — that it's beneath us — there's people who say, "I love this character. He's shaking up the world. He's giving us someone that we love to hate. He's so delicious. He's really challenging Ryan."
TVGO: So, Oliver wasn't Fox's idea?
Schwartz: No. The idea is actually based on a guy a friend of mine dated who faked having cancer to [hang on to her]. That kind of desperation and loneliness was really fascinating to me, and that's what inspired the Oliver character. As far as the network is concerned, they are constantly in favor of introducing new characters that challenge and mess up some of the relationships we have... This was the first time where we kicked up some real dust in terms of splitting people's opinions in a dramatic way. But I think that's good for a show; it gives people something to talk about. I'm actually real proud of it and excited that we did it.
TVGO: Do you think it hurt other characters' credibility? I'm sorry, but Marissa looked like a moron throughout this whole ordeal.
Schwartz: You have to remember that the audience was given a lot of information that these characters do not have. The audience has seen a lot of things — and that was a choice that we made. We could have really hit the ball and made it like you don't know what you're watching. I don't know that that isn't too soft of a way to go with the story. So, we made the conscious decision to let the audience see a lot of stuff that certainly Seth wasn't seeing and Marissa wasn't seeing as well.
TVGO: Still, I don't understand why Seth would believe a total stranger over Ryan.
Schwartz: It's not that he believes a total stranger over Ryan. In the last episode, Seth is saying to him that either the guy committed suicide or he faked it — either way, that's pretty crazy. But look, buddy, you're on thin ice all of the time. In your best interests, just try and embrace this guy and let it go. His siding with Oliver has less to do with him believing Oliver over Ryan than it does with him wanting to protect Ryan from his own jealous, baser instincts.
TVGO: You said this was a learning experience. What have you learned?
Schwartz: [Long pause] I don't know. I guess if you're going to introduce something controversial, just be willing to ride it out.