On NETFLIX’s suggestion, I started watching THE OA. I should research shows before I start, because after watching season one, I looked online and saw that the series was canceled after two seasons. The story had been intended for five. The first episode aired in 2016, so a while ago! THE OA was written by acclaimed Iranian filmmaker, Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling. who also stars as the main character, Prairie Johhnson.
THE OA, streamable on Netflix is a scifi-paranormal story set in suburban Michigan (mostly). I’ve watched the first season so far…THE OA is rated R for nudity and though it is a minimal amount of sexual content, it is full frontal nudity. With that said, this story potentially appeals to the young adult audience. Many of the characters are in high school or in their early twenties.
First, the Short Review…
4 Reasons to Watch
- THE OA draws the audience in through character(s) and builds tension through mystery
- A number of interesting and atypical characters
- THE OA explores the intersection of the metaphysical and the spiritual by focusing on life after death
- There is a fairytale-like quality to the storytelling that many will appreciate
2 Reasons to Skip
- THE OA was canceled after two seasons. The writers had envisioned 5, so it ends on a cliffhanger
- This story tries to tackle “a story within a story” and is mostly well-done, but feels forced at times
The Longer Review…
There is much to appreciate about an ambitious story like THE OA that attempts to unearth human longing for the spiritual. I found THE OA to be gripping in how it asks questions about redemption while exploring the role of miracles in that redemption. However, the exploration is unsatisfactory when the overall story gets cut off by a platform like Netflix. The story arc was written for five seasons, the viewer only got 2. I call this phenomena, the Firefly conundrum, named after the much acclaimed scifi series, Firefly, whose cancellation was pre-streaming service.
Similar to THE OA’s cancellation, Firefly’s production was halted due to not enough eyeballs watching or what the television industry then called low “Nielsen ratings”. The show’s devoted fans were anywhere from perplexed to enraged by this cancellation, but what can you do? Ironically, interest in the series surged even as it was cancelled such that when it went to DVD, sales were so good, the producers realized they had made a mistake.
It was too late to go back and recreate all those episodes. Instead, the film Serenity was the attempt to bring the story to a close. Diehard fans felt that if the Fox network had been willing to take that extra risk and continue making episodes, Firefly might have become a franchise on par with Battle Star Galactica or even Star Trek.
Netflix is not the first or the only platform that cancels shows midstream, but I wonder if their current business model, where they suggest shows to people like me knowing the story has been truncated, creates bitterness in its subscribers. It’s like they keep loaning me novels and then stealing them away when I’m part way through. Pretty soon, I stop taking novels from them and become more careful. In the worst case, people like me leave Netflix until they decide there is a show ready in its entirety, then subscribe for a time. Or, subscribers take fewer risks and reject watching new/untested productions which means fewer of these interesting and new stories get made.
In this scenario, the indie film people, the new and fresh storytellers suffer as do those hungry for something different. The audience gets more of the same old ideas and drivel, that which is tried and tested, but not necessarily exciting and experimental. It is the age-old question about the arts and profit. Profit is a reality in Hollywood. Netflix does have to pay its bills (and shareholders), but taking fewer risks in stories means I’m more likely to stop subscribing at some point. I haven’t gotten there yet, but I might.
If you liked the television series LOST and you’re a fan of Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese (creators of DARK) you will want to log into to your Netflix account and start streaming 1899 now. With that said, I give warning, a second season was not renewed. For some, this will be a reason not to watch. However, I wonder if buzz about the show might result in the approval of a second season. I hope so because I really want to understand this world that falls into the category of mystery/paranormal/science fiction.
First, the short review
4 Reasons to Watch the series, 1899
- Excellent production overall, with creepy settings and period costumes
- Well-acted by a diversity of performers, many of whom are new to the American audience, though a few starred in DARK
- Lots of tension and mystery
- Claustrophobic and isolating setting. Ocean-going vessel all alone on the open seas (well…sort of alone)
A Longer Review
1899 is free to Netflix subscribers. Eight episodes make up the first season. I rate it R for sexual content and some violence.
Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese bring to the screen this mind-twisting mystery with a style that broods and draws in its audience. That style will be familiar to fans of Odar and Friese’s imaginative work in the time-travel story, DARK.
1899 opens with the main character, Maura Franklin-Singleton, played by Emily Beecham, waking from a nightmare. The viewer quickly learns that Maura is living in another century. The title of the series is a helpful reference point as are the period costumes. Maura is also aboard an ocean liner with hundreds of other passengers, on its way to America from Europe. She appears to be traveling alone.
From the first moment of the longer narrative arc, confusion about reality is introduced to the viewer through the character of Maura. Her nightmare before waking is a terrifying scene in what seems to be a sanitorium for the mentally ill. She is strapped into a chair and given an injection while the command WAKE UP jolts her out of sleep and into the “real” world. The audience, along with Maura, sense the nightmare holds a degree of reality as she views the red marks on her wrists, where in the nightmare, she was strapped to the chair. She quickly covers those up with her long, victorian sleeves, and heads to the ship’s upper-class dining hall. To add drama to this ship’s community at large, there is a large portion of underclass people living below deck for the duration of the cruise.
Waking from a dream becomes a thread throughout the story as other characters, some of her fellow travelers, experience dreaming and waking to the same command, WAKE UP. The stories of these characters are slowly woven together into a climax that truly surprises.