Review: Netflix Original The OA

While the kids made merry over Christmas with tons of Netflix Christmas related movies (and none of the adverts that drive them up the wall and me to distraction as some shiny bit of tat attracts their attention), we sat down of an evening to watch another new Netflix Original, The OA.

The nature of the OA is such that it’s very difficult to write about it without spoiling either the set up, main conceit or conclusion but nevertheless I’m going to try and if this reads poorly as a result, I apologise and simply suggest you watch the damn thing.

The OA is ostensibly a science fiction drama that deals with a girl called Prairie who spent 7 years held captive by a kidnapper. When she was abducted she was blind but when she came back, she could see. Prairie tells her story to a disparate group of sceptical people who grow to believe her and the preternatural powers she talks about.

The story is told in flashback by Prairie in an unfinished house on the end of her street. As the viewer we’re not given any prompts that we should see Prairie as an unreliable narrator, a device that is more common in books than TV,  but we do share the incredulity of the group she is telling her story to.

The OA is self contained across 8 episodes that bleed into each other, without the normal structure of opening and closing credits. Reviews, although generally favourable, have been mixed and it is perhaps easy to see why. The OA is definitely not the next Stranger Things. I absolutely loved Stranger Things but the comparison isn’t fair.

Stranger Things is a Joe Dante fuelled 80’s nostalgia trip, The OA is a TV show I could imagine British Director Ben Wheatley making. If you’ve seen the utterly sublime A Field in England or his adaptation of High Rise, you’ll probably like The OA.

The OA asks a lot of questions, some that you may not even realise are being asked, and then fails to answer them in ways that you didn’t expect them to not be answered. If that doesn’t make a great deal of sense, I’ve probably achieved my aim.

It is a ride with an ambiguous and, for some, unfulfilling ending, but my what a ride. The imagination, the direction and the acting are superb. And yes, Prairie’s adopted mum is played by the Queen of the Borg (Star Trek: First Contact) Alice Krige. It took a while for me to place her name but I was determined not to look it up!

The OA is in many ways one of the best adverts for subscription streaming services like Netflix. Not because it’s necessarily the best or most popular show but because it is something that I’m fairly sure neither a public broadcaster like the BBC or a commercial channel would make and screen. I could easily see it being pulled from broadcast after a couple of episodes as audiences get too confused and advertisers get jittery. It is brilliant that Netflix are willing to take a risk on something so unorthodox. Even the episode lengths fluctuate from 31 to 71 minutes, as the length is fitted to the story and not vice versa.

There has been some discussion over the possibility of a second series. I’d be delighted if there is a second series, the door is definitely left open by the ending, but equally satisfied if this is all we get. We are in a golden age of television at the moment and shows like the OA only contribute to this.