TV REVIEW | The OA | A Netflix series | Brit Marling | Jason Isaacs
Seven years after vanishing from her home, a young woman returns with mysterious new abilities and recruits five strangers for a secret mission.
As several reviewers have recently pointed out in reaction to its 18-episode reboot on Showtime, there have been many TV series over the last three decades possessing the DNA of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (1990-91) to one degree or another. From single season failures such as NBC’s The Event (2010-11) to a successful run such as ABC’s LOST (2004-2010), even sci-fi/fantasy series such as The X-Files, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Ronald D. Moore’s SyFy reboot of Battlestar Galactica, and even HBO’s Game of Thrones have tapped into the tapestry of unraveling mysteries through the continuing narrative, thereby following in the footsteps of Twin Peaks. Netflix’s first TV series Stranger Things did the same to some success while visiting the ‘upside down’ and now a new Netflix series, The OA, follows much in the same vein. However, whereas Stranger Things heavily relied on the 80s nostalgia of Steven Spielberg films and Stephen King novels for much of its success, The OA goes all-in on its high-concept premise. In doing so, it hopes to take a willing audience along with the story absent the safety net of Generation X childhood memories. In this sense, The OA is much closer in spirit to Twin Peaks than Stranger Things. It is operating without a net.
It is a risky strategy. Batmanglij and Marling should be applauded for their willingness to go there since it is all-too-easy for the high concept to step over the line into plain silliness. For some viewers, that ‘line’ might be less forgiving than others. Those viewers will not like this series. In this sense (as well as those mentioned above), Stranger Things is a much ‘safer’ series for such an audience. However, if you appreciate the possibility that such a high-concept series might actually lead somewhere really interesting (unlike LOST, which became much-too-preoccupied with outflanking its audience), then you will enjoy watching The OA. It has an excellent cast (Alice Krige, Scott Wilson, Jason Isaacs) and Brit Marling is positively compelling in the title role. Zal Batmanglij’s direction of the episodes is assured, which makes for strong production values throughout the series. In its first season, The OA did enough to intrigue me about where this story might be going, assisted in no small part by the knowledge that Batmanglij and Marling apparently committed two years of intense development to the narrative and concepts of The OA. This makes me confident that they have a ‘series bible’ and know where this will lead the audience, much like Ronald D. Moore worked out where the reboot of Battlestar Galactica was heading for its climax years in advance. This comparative choice is purposeful on my part because – depending on where The OA does end up by its climax – those two series might very well be about some of the same broad-bushed concepts, without giving much of anything away about either series. Mark’s Grade: A-