**Contains bigtime SPOILERS**
So here it is. It took until December, but Netflix’s unclassifiable eight-part mystery ‘The OA’ is 2016’s Marmite-iest TV show. Have you been sucked in by the story of Prairie Johnson, the young blind woman who returns to her family in suburban Michigan after seven years being held captive? Or have you been laughing at your laptop at its bonkers-ness? Here’s where we think ‘The OA’ is getting it right and what’s left us scratching our heads.
👍 The coming-of-age stories are brilliant
One thing that ‘The OA’ creators Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling (who also plays Prairie) get so right is teenagers. When Prairie walks back into her suburban Michigan town with her sight miraculously restored, she recruits a group of troubled teenage boys on a mysterious mission.
Before writing the show, Batmanglij and Marling travelled through the Mid-West, visiting schools – sitting at the back of classrooms and talking to students. That research shows in sharply-observed characters who feel authentic and real. There’s 15-year-old Asian-American trans boy, Buck Vu (played beautifully by trans actor Ian Alexander). School bully Steve (Patrick Gibson) is so full of rage he punches the star of a glee choir in the throat. In another show Steve would be a clichéd baddie. In ‘The OA’ we see his unhappiness, the way his parents throw money at their ‘problem kid’ but don’t talk to him. All the boys are struggling to find their place in a world that’s connected by technology 24/7, but in which they feel alienated and alone. And don’t get us started on middle-aged maths teacher Betty, who has the best coming-of-age story of all – and she's in her fifties.
👎🏾 There are plot holes in the plot holes!
Seriously. The minute you start to think about it, nothing about ‘The OA’ makes sense. Prairie claims to have been held captive by crazy scientist Dr Hap (Jason Isaacs), who collects survivors of near-death experiences like specimens, storing them in glass cages. While she was locked up and experimented on, Prairie had the realisation that she’s an Angel – the Original Angel, or OA for short.
Most unconvincing is that ending, in which a school shooting is prevented by… the power of interpretive dance. There’s other stuff too. What was Riz Ahmed (yes, him again, playing an FBI counsellor) doing lurking outside Prairie’s parents’ house? When she was locked up by Dr Hap and secretly got her sight back, why didn’t Prairie whack him over the head with the casserole dish and save herself a few years?
👍 It is bloody addictive
Yeah, you watched going WTF, rolling your eyes. But admit it, you stayed up till 4am, thinking, just one more show… The way ‘The OA’ mashes up a missing-girl thriller with sci-fi, fantasy and coming-of-age drama is totally original and compelling. Right up to the end it keeps up the mystery: is Prairie a fake, some kind of cult leader who gets kicks out of manipulating lonely teenagers? Does she believe she has cosmic powers? Or is she a real-deal angel who will change the world? Marling’s performance – those big eyes looking at everything and everyone with wonder – go a long way to making you believe anything is possible.
👎🏾 There are bits that are like being trapped in a new age yoga class
Have you ever been to a yoga class where the teacher wittered on about your aligning your chakras to reach your spiritual zen place? Watching ‘The OA’ can be a bit like that – all that group dancing and Prairie swallowing a bird in another dimension. It's like that yoga teacher wrote a script after drinking a pint of bong-water.
👍 There is nothing else like it
There is something madly ambitious about 'The OA' that kept us glued right through to episode eight. The idea of bringing mystery to the suburbs is nothing new – 'Stranger Things' did it earlier this year. But where that show went for a cosy fuzzy nostalgia fest, 'The OA' packs in multi-dimensional travel, Russian oligarchs, terrifying experiments, an exploration of the liminal zone between life after death and a celestial figure called Kartoun. It's weird but totally wonderful in places.
'The OA' is on Netflix now
Also, here's our pick of the best TV to watch this Christmas.