I do not often write about TV shows here even though I watch a LOT of it. Recently I binge on Season 1 of The OA and remembering my promise to watch the bad ones so that you don’t have to, I feel I ought to write this review.
Watching the 8 episodes of The OA will invoke many memories of TV shows old and new: for example, Stranger Things and its Stephen King-esque supernatural storylines or Lost where different character’s backstories are revealed each episode. Unfortunately it also invokes lesser shows such as Heroes where a promising premise was squandered because the writers have no idea how to run with it convincingly and satisfyingly in case they have to go past season 1.
The initial episodes setting up the story are alluringly good. A blind girl, whom misfortunes seem to follow wherever she goes, went missing and returned 7 years later having regained her sight. She has a compelling story to tell about how she and 4 other people were abducted and used as human lab rats by a seemingly villainous scientist played by Jason Issacs (hello!). And she tells her story in an empty half-built house every night to 5 individuals who answered her online ad and in turn, we, the audience, feel similarly captured by her strange story.
The fact that her story (and the show as a whole) is full of plot-holes and enigmatic and irrelevant detour and details that are soon ignored and never mentioned again is frustrating enough but this is further hindered by a stoic and unsympathetic performance by Brit Marling, the co-creator, writer and lead of the show. She is a one-note actress – and while this can be utilised in a very effective manner in some instances, here, she is more often irritating then intriguing.
It doesn’t help that she is surrounded by much more interesting characters (played by more watchable actors) that we desperately want to know more of but we keep circling back to Marling.
The problem isn’t even that the last half of the season dangles the prospect of a resolution to the delicious mystery set up so far but took its sweet time to… not get there. It is the fact that you actually feel the writers losing interests in their storytelling half way through; and it is particularly crucial in a show about storytelling as this is not sold as a character study. The unconvincing way to enhance the mystery by sprinkling doubts in the last (maybe 2) episode(s) is about as half-hearted in my opinion as that half built house they meet. And as the goodwill and fascination fall away, they are replaced by a pretentious and artificial ambiguity that will test the patience of the most devoted – even for those (and I am one of them) who accepted the introduction of the ‘movements’.(Going into this more will take us into spoiler territory and while I am tempted, I do have a sacred code of conduct I like to uphold. So I won’t. But you can easily google it if you wish.)
In the end, I don’t even mind that ambiguity if it is well judged and earned. And I can see that going forward, and there is every reason indicating that there will be a Season 2, all this could be seen in a different light. But at this moment, after spending 7 odd hours with the show, I feel not unlike those abductees, as I was lured by the false pretense of an intriguing mystery only to find myself locked in a box and going nowhere. I will still probably come back for season 2, begrudgingly, considering the time I have invested already, just in case I am proven wrong and it does take me somewhere narratively interesting and coherent. But in our world of TooMuchTV, and for those who haven’t yet taken the bait, I feel duty bound to warn you that this is nowhere near as satisfying as Stranger Things – even though that show has its own problems in its plotting, I would recommend you checking that out instead if you haven’t.And if you have, maybe it’s time to switch Netflix off, go out and get some air.