TV Boyfriend Smackdown: Seth Cohen vs. Ryan Atwood from 'The O.C.'

(Cosmo UK/FOX)

Welcome back to the TV Boyfriend Smackdown! We pit two (or three) of television’s most eligible (and fictional) bachelors against one another, and discuss their merits with regard to three major categories: attractiveness, personality, and potential for capital-D Drama. Based on our spirited debate, we’ll declare a winner, but fear not: you’ll have a chance to weigh in as well.

This week, we’re pitting the ultimate Gen Y TV boyfriends against each other: Seth Cohen and Ryan Atwood from The O.C. If you're not fully caught up to date on the SoCal drama, first of all: check yo'self, but second: beware of spoilers here — if we’re going to judge thoroughly, we’re going to judge on everything that happened and we can’t be held responsible for your inability to Hulu or Netflix in a timely manner (particularly because The O.C.’s been over for six years). Let the smackdown begin!

Seth Cohen

Lindsay's Take:

True confession here, folks: I’ve personally dated both a Seth and a Ryan. I will try to keep my life experiences out of this, but — oh, who am I kidding? Anyway, over the span of The O.C., Seth managed to go from “Who’s Seth?” to dating the most popular girl (well, fine, second most popular) in school. How’d he do it, and would we date him now? Let’s see.

  • Attractiveness: Seth Cohen is dorky-cute. Adam Brody is no beefcake, but that sideways smirk and ever-tousled hair really add up to something, as do his so-2003 striped polo shirts, ultra-skinny corduroys, and lace-up Converse sneakers. Seth Cohen is a stud for an alternative population, and for this, I proclaim Seth to be cute, but not hot. Big difference, folks.
  • Personality: Once Ryan and Anna showed up and pushed Seth to stop being so self-loathing (Anna’s “Confidence, Cohen” is a personal mantra of mine), Seth really opened up. He took big risks for Summer, jumping onto a coffee cart and proclaiming his love for her in front of the whole school, and then, after they were together and she wanted to run away to save the world, vowed to wait for her. I mean, swoon? It’s not all sweetness, though — his sarcasm cuts through all the cloying (which I love even more). The cons? He can be a little whiny and probably plays too many video games.
  • Possible Drama: Well, Seth did have that whole “who-do-I-choose-Anna-or-Summer” thing. He chose passion over friendship (which was the right decision, I think), and ended up with longterm love. When Seth Cohen mates, he mates for life, so I don’t foresee any loyalty issues or real relationship drama.

Jess' Take:

  • Attractiveness: I love me Seth Cohen's Jew-fro (his words), big eyes, potential for Sandy Cohen eyebrows, quirky Urban Outfitters tees, and Converse sneaks. Freaking adorable, kiddos. It’s true that he was an icon for nerdy-cute guys everywhere, before it was actually a mainstream thing (really, he made it a thing). Also, Seth was an avid sailor, so hello arm definition! But it’s also true that “hot” and “cute” are different, and Seth’s bumbling tended to keep him just shy of “hot.”
  • Personality: I, too, repeat “Confidence, Cohen” as a mantra quite often (can you tell that The O.C. was a big deal to both me and Lindsay in our formative years?). Once Seth Cohen found his inner confidence, he really blossomed. He was sweet and loyal, and you really get the feeling that he’d treat you right. However, he’s a wee bit self-centered (only child, remember). Sometimes it’s not about you, Seth. Sometimes it’s about the fact that Ryan’s mom kicked him out of the house, you know?
  • Possible Drama: The only BIG fight I recall between Seth-and-Summer-4eva was when he lied about smoking weed and getting into Brown. But, you know what, he learned his lesson and they eventually got married. So really, not a lot of drama from Seth Cohen on the relationship front (maybe that’s a result of basically always being the sidekick, but whatever).

Ryan Atwood

Jess' Take: Ryan was really the Horatio Alger/Charles Dickens heart of The O.C. After Sandy Cohen took Ryan in from the hardened streets of Chino, Ryan found his path and left his life of crime behind him. But along the way, he had a series of romantic entanglements that always led him back to the girl next door: Marissa Cooper. Her drama aside, how does Ryan fare as a boyfriend? Time to analyze.

  • Attractiveness: Let’s talk about the tank tops, first and foremost. They became sort of a joke within the show over its four seasons, because Ryan was almost always wearing a ribbed tank. I guess it was originally meant to indicate how “Chino” he was, but since it showed off his beautifully defined arms, I’d like to say “thanks” to whoever made that costume decision. Gah. In fact, when it comes to the physical, the only bad thing you can say about Ryan Atwood is that he’s short. Everything else about him is pretty damn fi-ine.
  • Personality: Ryan’s trigger-touch temper was a bit of a problem in the world of The O.C. Remember The O.C. drinking game? Take a drink every time Ryan Atwood punches someone? That existed because he was constantly punching people. He always had reasons, of course, but I think that’d get just a tad old, and fast. Overall, Ryan had a good heart buried under that rough exterior, and he really blossomed into a stand-up guy over the course of the show. He’s a guy you want on your side.
  • Possible Drama: All right, there’s the punching and the family abandonment issues. But otherwise, Ryan’s drama was mostly created by one Marissa Cooper. Blah, blah, maybe they were soulmates in that ill-fated, Romeo and Juliet way, but Coop really brought a boatload of crap to Ryan’s life. Without her, the Ryan Atwood drama potential isn’t quite as sky-high.

Lindsay's Take:
  • Attractiveness: I won’t even front about Ryan. He’s hot. The muscular build, the wry smile, the “he-conveys-so-much-with-a-look” look? And when he cut his hair sort of short in the final seasons? Lord, have mercy. The tank tops were just the icing on top of the hotness cake. You can take the kid out of Chino, but you can’t take the Chino out of the kid. And, re: his height? Is it that Ben McKenzie is really short, or that Mischa Barton is freakishly tall?
  • Personality: Ah, the punching. Ryan really needed to learn how to use his words, no? I will say that he always tried to do the right thing, whether it be leaving Marissa alone to be with Luke (though misguided), getting back with Teresa when she thought she was pregnant (ugh, remember that?), and really trying to forgive Marissa after the whole Oliver thing (Did you all just roll your eyes while remembering that storyline? Because I did.).
  • Possible Drama: COMPLETELY agree with Marissa being the source of Ryan’s drama. Because once he was free of his family (past like the first 5 episodes), she was the problem. Three words: THAT OLIVER THING. Case in point? His relationship at the end of the series with control-queen Taylor Townsend seems ripe with promise.

Winner: Ryan Atwood

This was such a tough one. We really debated over this, but Ryan came out on top. And why? He overcame adversity and got his act together (he became an architect at the end of the series, which is one of the ultimate hot-guy jobs). He also proved to be a smart, loyal, and loving guy once he tempered that temper, and he’s responsible for one of the best exchanges of the whole series. Why did Seth lose? The whining and the compulsion for self-loathing could prove to be a bit much after awhile. But let's face it: They're really their strongest when they're together, and if we could have them both win, we would. They're Kavalier and Clay, after all.

Disagree with our outcome? Well, you have a say, too! Just vote for your preferred winner in this round of the TV Boyfriend Smackdown below, and we’ll see you in two weeks for our next match-up!

Poll: Ryan Atwood or Seth Cohen?
Click to vote:
  • Ryan Atwood
  • Seth Cohen