Logging onto Netflix is always interesting; you never know if there's going to be a new show released so when it happens, it's great. I perpetually have a backlog of television shows to watch that would take years to go through so the inclusion of new shows makes this backlog grow larger. Uncomfortably so.
That's a conundrum, of course. The more I add, the less confident I am in the choices I make when selecting something new to watch. What if it's bad? What if it's "just okay"? What if one of these other shows would be far more meaningful, far more impactful if I watched it instead?
As fate would have it, I would end up watching The OA by pure happenstance. Netflix incorporated the offline viewing feature a handful of days before I would find myself on a bus trip that would take over five hours. I wanted to do Luke Cage but they didn't have it. Instead, right at the top, was a new Netflix show called The OA. Why not?
My thoughts below should be considered spoiler heavy.
The Show is Confusing, but Enticing
When I finished the first season of The OA, I struck out to see what other people thought. The resounding opinion of those who didn't like it was that the show was confusing.
I won't lie. It absolutely is confusing.
However, I don't think this is a demerit against the show. I believe, fully, that the confusion adds to the appeal. You don't know what's going on. You're listening to a storyteller tell a story. What is true? What is a lie? Is all of this a fabrication? You join the main cast in answering these questions. It is their journey as much as it is yours.
Most of the actors on the cast of The OA aren't well-known. Phyllis from The Office is a main character while Hershel from The Walking Dead is a supporting character. Besides this, everyone else has had mostly small parts in other media or have avoided the Hollywood limelight in all its glory (and stress).
With that comes risk. Are actors used to small roles capable of rising to the demands of a lead role? In The OA I would say yes, they absolutely do. All the actors do a wonderful job and seem dedicated to their characters. Some facets of the show, such as the "movements", require some keen memorization and endurance that each actor fulfilled without the need for a stunt double. They were believable and never seemed out of place.
Proper Character Development
Along that same train of thought, The OA does something other shows often have trouble with. Many shows can face difficulty in developing their characters in an unpredictable way, often needing to follow predictable tropes to move the story forward.
Characters such as Steve have excellent development throughout the first season, keeping to their core personality traits while being challenged with the events that have transpired. We see several characters become more comfortable with who, or with what, they are. They grow to care for each other regardless of the social castes they find themselves in.
And, above all else, their prior conflicts don't go away. Steve and French are still at odds, French and Buck still don't know how to navigate the tension between them, and Betty still grapples with the death of her brother up until the very end. This doesn't mention the ongoing conflict between Prairie and her adoptive parents.
You are witness to different stories. You hear about Prairie's life in Russia, her life after coming to America, her life once she's with her adoptive parents, and her life under the watchful eye of Hap. You see glimpses of each of these, connecting pieces to one another until you finally have a discernible mosaic that tells you a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Everything you hear connects to something else. Nothing is superfluous. But... you don't know if the connection you hear is relevant, true, or in any way important. You just know they connect. You're kept at the edge of your seat with every new piece of information you learn about because you won't know until it's probably too late how it fits into the puzzle.
You can't figure it out faster than Prairie can tell the story, leaving you with a bunch of details and a whole lot of uncertainty.
There's a Cliffhanger
Most shows utilize cliffhangers at the end of the season. It's how you make people think about it during the break between seasons. The OA has a cliffhanger, of course, and I think it's a decent one. You don't know the answer to the cliffhanger but it's built in such a way that you can speculate about it. What is the significance of Prairie being shot? Who knows?
Teleportation or Cross-Dimensional Travel? Both?
One of the confusing aspects of The OA is where people travel during a near death experience. Prairie says it's another dimension, Hap says it's space. Which is it? Is it both? Is any of it true or is it all a delusion?
You'll have noticed that the majority of this post asks questions. That's intentional. This show is meant for making you ask questions. You're supposed to try and figure it out. And more importantly, you're supposed to want to stick around to hear more.
It achieved this with me. I want to hear more. I want to unravel the mystery. The main group of Steve, Betty, Buck, French, and Jesse all share this with me. They were skeptical and hesitant. They heard the first story and were unsure. By the third night they had bought in entirely, a captive audience.
As I mentioned above, the viewer shares this journey with the main characters. They want to finish the story and figure it out. Do you?