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A major theme of the first season is the culture shock Ryan feels as he adjusts from a life of domestic abuse and poverty to living in a superficial high-class society.He quickly befriends and bonds with Seth Cohen, and begins to have a romantic relationship with Marissa Cooper.Ryan's brother, Trey Atwood, gets out of jail and threatens to bring Ryan's old life into his new one.

The Cooper family, left with little money, is forced to move into a trailer park.Ryan and Seth spend much time navigating their relationships with girl-next-door Marissa Cooper, Seth's childhood crush Summer Roberts, and the fast-talking loner Taylor Townsend.Storylines deal with the culture clash between the idealistic Cohen family and the shallow, materialistic, and closed-minded community in which they reside.and evolve the characters." For example, the story closely follows Ryan in his advanced physics class, where tension is created between him and another student, Lindsay, who presumes that Ryan will be useless as a lab partner, who thus prevents him from contributing to the work that must be submitted.Ryan's character begins to grow when he stands up to Lindsay and convinces her to allow him to contribute, forcing them to work together to complete the assignment.