The OA is an American mystery drama web television series with science fiction, supernatural, and fantasy elements, which debuted on Netflix on December 16, 2016. Created and executive produced by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, the series is their third collaboration. The series consists of eight episodes, all directed by Batmanglij, and is produced by Plan B Entertainment and Anonymous Content. In the series, Marling stars as a young woman named Prairie Johnson who resurfaces after having been missing for seven years. Prairie now calls herself "The OA" and can see, despite having been blind before her disappearance.
The OA received generally favorable critical reception, although reviews ranged from highly positive to highly negative, with several reviewers drawing both favorable and unfavorable comparisons with Stranger Things, another science fiction series that debuted on Netflix earlier in the year. On February 8, 2017, Netflix renewed the series for a second season.
The series centers on Prairie Johnson, an adopted young woman who resurfaces after having been missing for seven years. Upon her return, Johnson calls herself "The OA", exhibits scars on her back, and can see, despite having been blind when she disappeared. The OA refuses to tell the FBI and her adoptive parents where she has been and how her eyesight was restored, and instead quickly assembles a team of five locals (mostly high school boys) to whom she reveals that information, also explaining her life story. Finally, she asks for their help to save the other missing people who she claims are currently in another dimension.
The following actors appear in the show:Brit Marling as Prairie Johnson / The OA
Emory Cohen as Homer Roberts
Scott Wilson as Abel Johnson, Prairie's adoptive father
Phyllis Smith as Elizabeth "Betty" Broderick-Allen
Alice Krige as Nancy Johnson, Prairie's adoptive mother
Patrick Gibson as Steve Winchell
Brendan Meyer as Jesse
Brandon Perea as Alfonso "French" Sosa
Ian Alexander as Buck Vu
Jason Isaacs as Dr. Hunter Aloysius "Hap" Percy
Hiam Abbass as Khatun
Zoey Todorovsky as Nina Azarova, a young Prairie Johnson
Marcus Choi as Mr. Vu
Robert Eli as Principal Gilchrist
Nikolai Nikolaeff as Roman Azarov, Nina's father
Will Brill as Scott Brown
Zachary Gemino as Carlos Sosa, Alfonso's brother
Sharon Van Etten as Rachel
Riz Ahmed as FBI Psychologist Elias Rahim
Paz Vega as Renata
Robert Morgan as Sheriff Stan Markham
Michael Cumpsty as Dr. Leon Citro
The series was conceived by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij and they began working on the concept in December 2012. They spent two years working on The OA on their own, before pitching to studios. From the early stages of development onward, they were telling the story out loud and noting one another's reactions to the story to refine it accordingly. They found it difficult to summarize the show in a written story, so they developed it as a play. When executives read the script of the first hour, they asked if the story "really [went] somewhere." Marling and Batmanglij then began to tell the story from beginning to end, playing all the characters and acting out the big moments through many hours. They worked with Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment, which connected with the story and shared helpful notes. Following a multiple-network bidding war, the series was first revealed on March 5, 2015, as Netflix ordered eight one-hour long episodes with Plan B and Anonymous Content also on board. The announcement revealed that Marling would star, Batmanglij would direct, and both would write and executive produce. Marling and Batmanglij held similar positions in their previous two collaborations, Sound of My Voice and The East.
Rostam Batmanglij, Zal's brother, worked as one of the composers on the series, and he also wrote its theme music. He previously composed for both Sound of My Voice and The East. Choreographer Ryan Heffington created The Movements. Heffington first professionally worked with them on The East, and had been an acquaintance of both from earlier than that.
The final episode includes a dedication to Allison Wilke. Wilke, also known professionally as A.W. Gryphon was a producer on the show who died of breast cancer a month before its release.
The OA has received generally favorable critical reception. Rotten Tomatoes assigned the series a 74% critical approval rating and an average rating of 7.48/10 based on 36 reviews, writing that "The OA is more than OK." Metacritic, based on 17 reviews, assigned the series a rating of 61 out of 100, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Most reviewers acknowledged the series' ambition and praised its mystery and direction. Reviewers made both favorable and unfavorable comparisons to another Netflix Original, Stranger Things.
John Doyle of The Globe and Mail writes, "The OA is Netflix’s strongest and strangest original production since Stranger Things. In terms of substantive, original drama, it transcends it. Mind you, it is unclassifiable in the context of drama, mystery, science-fiction and fantasy, since it is straddling all sorts of lines and blurring them. It is outright astounding and brilliant, too." Tim Surette at TV Guide claimed that "the final moments of Episode 5 – probably the best episode of the first season – was some of the most reaffirming television I've ever seen, not just for the show but for life itself. I've never really had this kind of a relationship with a series while watching it, but it's that experience that makes it well worth viewing." New York Magazine headlined its glowing review, "Netflix’s The OA Is an Extraordinary, Binge-Worthy December Surprise."
Tristram Fane Saunders of the The Daily Telegraph gave a mixed review of 3 out of 5 stars and noted the series' potential but criticized its similarity to fellow Netflix Original Stranger Things, claiming that the series was attempting to be "stranger than Stranger Things" but "on the basis of the first four episodes, the answer is a resounding no." Saunders's review also highlighted the series' lack of originality and characterization, and derided the dialogue as "portentous [and] self-consciously literary". In addition, it also criticized the slow pace as "glacial". However, Saunders also acknowledged the series told an interesting and compelling story, writing that "The OA may be utter hokum, but you’ll still be hooked."
Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter gave a negative review, stating that the series was "a failed, but not wholly worthless, experiment in TV auteurism." Fienberg added "the problem, of course, is that telling you what The OA is vaguely like is just another tease and telling you what it actually is a recipe for disappointment, because after an enticing and somewhat infuriating build-up, The OA becomes something quite ludicrous as it stumbles toward a climax that is, if I'm generous, merely unearned and if I'm not being generous, a series of offensive overreaches." Sonia Saraiya of Variety also gave a negative review, stating that "it is hard to take The OA seriously", detailing that "none of it makes any sense", while praising the direction and acting.