TV Review: The OA
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Naming a TV series “The OA” is a bit of a risky decision, as it tells us absolutely nothing about the content of the show.
In fact, we don’t find out exactly what it means until the penultimate episode and, well, it's weird. This show could be even stranger than Stranger Things.
With this latest series, Netflix seems to be relying on its reputation to attract viewers. And, to be honest, its working. There seems to be an innate Netflix-ness to The OA which is hard to pin down; it just wouldn’t work on a regular TV channel.
Also, the less you know going into it, the better. Let's just say if you knew what "The OA" meant before hearing the whole story, you probably wouldn't want to start watching at all.
Brit Marling, who plays the protagonist of the series, also created the show with a man who might just have the coolest name ever: Zal Batmanglij. When you have Batman in your name, expectations are high. Thankfully, the duo delivered. On twitter he called The OA an “8 hour movie”, which is enough to put off even the biggest film buffs, but somehow he pulls it off. Each episode ends with such a cliffhanger that “just one more episode” becomes “it’s over already?!” before you know it.
It’s difficult to summarise the plot without giving anything away. Simply put, Prairie Johnson, a previously blind young woman, returns home after being missing for seven years. Now with her sight back, she recruits five strangers to whom she tells her story in an abandoned attic. What follows is a back-and-forth narrative between the present, where she is recounting her experience, and the past events of the story itself, which include her being trapped in a cage and experimented on.
The pilot episode jumps straight in at the deep end, starting with a disorientating, phone-style recording of Prairie jumping off a bridge. The unusual cinematographic aspects keep coming, including the absence of any titles until about 50 minutes into the pilot - which appear in the middle of a scene. Everything up to that seems more like a prequel before the "real" story starts.
There are a few similarities to Stranger Things - including the idea of inter-dimensional travel - but mostly they fall into the “feel” of the show rather than the storylines. Both are unusual dramas with a plot that is somehow both familiar and unparalleled, and both have what Netflix has become renowned for: strong, three-dimensional characters that we soon fall in love with.
(Side note: if you watch carefully during episode four, you can see one of the characters watching Stranger Things on TV. I see what you did there, Netflix!)
Brit Marling worked on the idea for this show for years, and you can definitely see the passion brought through in her character. The others may not quite live up to her standard, but they sure do a good job trying. Betty, or BBA, is a particularly good character with just the right amount of humour, sympathy and badassery.The OA could be classed as sci-fi or fantasy, but such elements fall into the action subtly; I would say that mystery is the prevailing feature. As her story develops, it gets weirder and weirder until we could perhaps question its authenticity. But still, we are desperate to learn more.
The finale at first seemed to be following a predictably anticlimactic path. However, there’s a final twist in the last 10 minutes that makes you start to question everything all over again. Needless to say, if you liked Stranger Things and Sense8, you should definitely give this a try.