I began watching The OA with an open mind, having heard a range of positive and negative responses to the latest sci-fi Netflix Original series. While many say the show is a beautiful work of art with a refreshing outlook on the sci-fi genre and life itself, others label it as a poor man’s Stranger Things. What I discovered however was something in between, a show that is somehow both enticing and dull, mysterious and clichéd, creative and ridiculous. Would I recommend The OA? Frankly, I’m not quite sure how to answer that question.
Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s latest collaboration begins with a bang. The viewer is instantly drawn in with a dramatic opening shot of protagonist Prairie Johnson (Marling), or as she calls herself, the OA, throwing herself off a bridge. The mystery is sustained as OA refuses to disclose information about her disappearance, instead telling her story (very, very slowly) to a group of strangers from the same high school. The covert nature of the plot along with the poetic establishment of unlikely character relationships in the first episode succeeds in keeping the viewers wanting more.
“Would I recommend The OA? Frankly, I’m not quite sure how to answer that question.”
Nonetheless, once I had hit the halfway point it became increasingly harder for The OA to retain my intrigue. It was clear that many of the questions relating to the convoluted storyline would essentially remain unanswered, mainly due to the careless crafting of the plot rather than as a cliffhanger device. The questions that were answered made me repeatedly frown in confusion or cringe from the cliché.
The theme of near-death experiences that runs throughout the series is certainly an interesting concept, but its execution just doesn’t quite work. There were many scenes that were clearly meant to be inspirational, moving or dramatic, but the actual success of these moments was few and far between. A notable example was the discovery of the five movements that allowed the prisoners to bring the dead back to life which, in spite of the dramatic music that accompanies the comical routine, simply reminded me of bad student dance shows I had seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The near-death experiences themselves were also childish in their visualisation. The appearance of a mysterious woman called Khatun was unnecessary; instead of building on the show’s image as an indie sci-fi about alternate realities and dimensions, it actually confused it even more.
However, despite the weakness of the plot, The OA is not completely without merit. In fact, the story did work well as a family drama; the pain of OA’s adoptive parents (Scott Wilson and Alice Krige) is deeply moving and the problems that arise within the household as one would expect in real life are developed masterfully. It was these agonisingly realistic relationships that reminded me more of Stranger Things than anything else, and this in no way tainted my feelings towards The OA. It seems ignorant to confuse inspiration with replication, and therefore irrelevant to criticise Marling and Batmanglij for the few allusions to Stranger Things that appear in this largely original drama. Nonetheless, The OA is nowhere near as intelligent or effective as the Duffer Brothers’ hit show; while the acting was just as high-class, the script the cast of The OA were given was without a doubt inferior. However, if the outlandish ‘scientific’ details and unconvincing twists in the story were stripped away, viewers could well have been left with a unique tale of the meaning of the life.
The OA is neither a raging success nor a total failure. In no way is completing the first series a waste of time, nor is it a totally forgettable viewing. Having said that, to put it briefly, The OA is nothing special, although it tries desperately to be. The overall beauty of the visuals, as well as the familial and romantic relationships, were heavily overshadowed by the clumsy plot holes and ludicrous climaxes. So, to return to my initial question, should you watch The OA or avoid it at all costs? My answer is: if you’re not convinced at first, you probably shouldn’t bother with the rest
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