Raise your hand if you've ever felt personally victimized by New Year's Eve. Keep it up if you've ever spent too much time and money and got all dressed up, only for the night of December 31st to feel like any other night out—or worse, to feel like a complete waste. One year in high school I was all amped up because one girl's parents were going to be away, but the ensuing party got broken up because this one guy whipped out a switchblade over a beer pong argument. And actually, that was one of the better NYEs—at least it was memorable (shout out, switchblade guy). I can barely recall how I've spent all the other New Year's Eves.
It's all an issue of misguided and elevated expectations. New Year's Eve has come to carry an air of significance and extravagance that the night really never lives up to. We're tricked into thinking it means something, more than other nights of drinking and revelry. Maybe it's because countdowns are inherently emotionally manipulative, or because everyone grows up watching a bunch of psychos in Time's Square go apeshit while a ball covered in 2,688 crystals descends from a skyscraper, but if you ask me, my generation's misguided perception is because of The O.C. episode, "The Countdown."
Early on in "The Countdown," Hailey Nichol tells Ryan and Seth that "The way you spend New Year's Eve is the way you'll spend the rest of the year" (even earlier, Seth emphasizes NYE's importance, calling it "only the most important chick holiday of the year, aside from Valentine's Day," which isn't wrong but is a bit of a misogynist understatement, because NYE is just as, if not more, important to guys—they're the ones who built up the night as an easy way to make out with said "chicks" at midnight). It's a pretty good line, packed with implication and the stakes that if you're washed on NYE, your entire year is gonna be washed. I actually used it on a girl on AIM in high school and then we started dating shortly after, so yeah, I may have slightly tricked someone into thinking she needed more purpose in her life and that I was the solution for that. But that's just how powerful that line is—and it's still sticking to our collective ribs.
In The O.C., the statement rips through almost every character who hears it—and it actually gets repeated by people who didn't even hear Hailey say it the first time. Sandy and Kirsten Cohen skip out on their dinner reservations and almost end up having group sex at a swinger's party; Anna briefly befriends Summer before pulling an all-time sneak move and sliding into Seth's IRL DMs; and of course, Ryan Atwood climbs 18 or so flights of stairs so that he can tell Marissa "I love you" just as midnight is striking. It makes for a great episode of television—it's without a doubt one of the best The O.C. ever aired—but that greatness, the epic level of drama achieved when Ryan bursts through the door in slow motion while Finley Quaye's "Dice" plays, only deepened the mark the episode left on its young, impressionable viewers.
If I'm being completely honest with myself, I've probably been trying to have a "Countdown"-like New Year's Eve ever since the episode aired in 2003. Not that I've ever been like, "Yo I really need to save my girlfriend from a sociopath named Oliver this year," but I have been yearning for some level of drama, romance and excitement on NYE, at least on a subconscious level. And every year, my night is found wanting. Because how could it not be? There's never been drama, unless you count that switchblade guy; there's never much romance—all the kisses have been either borderline sloppy or predetermined; Finley Quaye never plays. And New Year's Eve has never been the best or most important night of my respective year. It's hardly ever in the top ten, even though it costs me more than all the best nights of my year combined.
God damn you, Hailey Nichol, with your manipulative statements, and Ryan Atwood, with your quiet valor. And Josh Schwartz, who created it all—god damn you the most.
I'm finally done trying to make my "Countdown" moment happen. No more. This year, I'm gonna make myself a steak, drink too much whiskey, and probably finish Making a Murderer. Which is pretty appropriate, because I'll probably spend most of 2016 watching Netflix. Hailey Nichol was right after all.