Netflix is flooding the streets right now fam. Literally. In 2015, they pumped out 450 hours of original content. In 2016, they aimed to hit 600 hours. The year has about a week left, so I have no idea if they hit their mark. But it sure does feel like it. By Heisenberg’ing the game, Netflix has rightly rubbed traditional networks the wrong way and made it exciting to log into my little ol’ account every other night. Which of course is how I ended up getting through
The Prairie Home Companion The OA, one of their newest scifi shows. But how exactly, or what exactly, should I say about The OA?
Rather than give you a traditional filmy-wilmy post that would do very little to explain an already confusing show, I’ve opted to keep things fun. Spoil-full dap is back. So you’ve been warned suckas!
The First Movement
So meet Prairie. Yes, her parents named her Prairie. Why? I assume because it would help clutter her Google Image Search results with images like this so creepy dudes from OKCupid couldn’t stalk her.
Anyway, she uhh, tried to murk herself on a bridge. But she was saved. Or so we think?
Shit gets weird as we find out that Prairie is formally blind and now can see. And she’s rebuking her parents, claiming her real name is “The OA.” The FBI gets involved and her hometown has no way to understand what the fucks is going on. Which is fine, because people should probably be more worried about the rest of this town’s issues. Like how this kid Steve, who has been punching anything with a pulse, is selling drugs and has an attack dog.
He’s a real fucking menace to society. But you know, he’s just now being sent to military school because he’s just a product of….low grade affluenza? [Writer’s Note: My original joke was about economic anxiety, but upon further analysis, this kid is pretty well off.] His family doesn’t seem to be poor exactly but they’re not super rich. Pero, his dad can just throw $1,500 down for someone’s deductible for lacerated throat muscles (yooo that’s a wild injury to have, right?) So, it’s his performance of an urbanized poverty that elicits this dig.
He goes to a decent high school and wants for nothing besides some intimate parenting and hugs. And yet, he lives like a fucking miscreant selling drugs, assaulting people and listening to rappity rap music. While that last bit in no way realistically correlates with criminality, it does in a world where white youths are made edgy by their proximity to “urban” things and blackness.
The Second Movement
So yeah “The OA” aka Prairie aka Young Lost MA (oooooooooooouu) starts brokering deals to find a way to get out of town and back to where she came from….wherever that is. But this involves some accomplices. Through a series of shenanigans, she enlists Ticking Time Bomb Potential Neo Nazi, Trans Kid Who Has Painfully Underserved Screen Time, Overly Achieving and Suffering Asian Jock, Forgettable Other Kid, and Woefully Sad Teacher Lady Who Sounds Like Tree Trunks from Adventure Time.
But wait! Before this super team can jump into the void, she must regale and convince them of her beginnings. So she tells them spooky and terrifying stories of torture, growing up and repeated death in the middle of night in an abandoned building. It’s supposed to be intimate and, almost innocent, but considering the circumstances, it comes off in a really weird way. Additionally, I don’t think anybody saw this gritty reboot of Are You Afraid of The Dark coming. No one at all.
The Third Movement
So after all these tales come to a head, some character development (or lack thereof) and a surprise appearance from
now-reformed dust head Naz and future Imperial cargo pilot Riz Ahmed, most is revealed: Prairie is some kind of otherworldly being who can make mystical things happen…through the power of interpretive dance.
Nah, you read that right. I’m not shitting you. Read it again.
So, in order to create a portal to rescue her fellow prisoners in Cuba (also totally not shitting you), she must train this ragtag group into a proper collegiate senior dance thesis dream team. Conversely, she only has so much time because her kidnapper also has access to these killer portal moves. And who knows what he’ll do with them?
No seriously, who knows something here? I’m still lost as to what kind of nefarious plans he had besides kidnapping people, feeding them Soylent pellets, trying to discover the next dimension(s) and being really creepy.
Anyway…this part of the season mostly concerns itself with character building, flashbacks and some really depressing shots of what looks like the Midwest. I couldn’t be sure and I don’t feel like checking back right now because just watching those scenes again lowers my resting body temperature.
Long story short: shit is hectic and it’s up to Young Lost MA and her team of dancers to set it right. Or maybe this escapee hwite woman is talking to people’s children and recruiting cult members in someone’s bando and omg we should stop her.
You decide. I really can’t judge.
The Fourth Movement
The flashbacks themselves are where all the good stuff is, for me at least. So much so that it made it hard to appreciate some of the nuances going on in the present day. Dunno if that’s my fault, the producers’, 2016’s or whoever isn’t paying me to write this right now. Whatever. Point is, the actual kidnapping scenario in The OOOUUA is the most gripping part of the show. If they had re-edited the season to focus on it more thoroughly, I almost would have more empathy/feeling for Young Lost MA.
This is where I’ll say, for the record, part of that has to deal with chromatics. The OOOUUA wins in the diversity column because it has several asian folks with speaking roles, a full-fledged trans character (meaning a trans character played by a trans person who has multiple lines and interactions with other characters, nearly all of which don’t specifically detail his trans-ness), and focuses on a lot of not conventionally attractive people.
However, and almost in spite of these positives, there’s some distance because of the following.
First up is that black folk are just non-existent. I don’t know why it hit me so weirdly in this instance; considering scifi in general is very hwite, I should be used to it. But there’s something about how intentional the diversity on this show was — it felt strange not even seeing some black folk sprinkled around, even if they were in the background.
Despite all the boons of the above, second up is the lack of development on the part of Buck, the young trans kid. He’s extremely photogenic, has a great voice and presence. And yet, I really feel like they underused him. They leaned so heavily into Steve’s story, and French’s later on, that Buck (and Jesse’s) stories are completely subsumed. Like, who is Buck? What is his crisis/tension? Besides needing testosterone (which links him to Steve), what exactly is his thing? Is it problematic to just assume that it’s his transition because he’s trans? C’mon fam.
You put all this work into creating a “non-traditional” cast, and we *still* give the most screen time to a 2016 pseudo-working-class-but-not-really James Dean? How is that not subverting the very point of what this casting was supposed to do in the first place?
Thus, in a way, The OOOUUUA defeats its own grabs for diversity by not really doing much with it except say “hey! here’s a bunch of misfits who aren’t what you normally see on a show, so uh, give me a high five broh!” It’s the type of faulty and highkey lazy world-building that mistakes the forest for the trees. On one hand, it seems to be a first step answer to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign and ensuing conversation and shakeups. However, in proper The OOOUUUA fashion, it lacks the substance needed to actually ground it and provide impact that makes you feel. Which, in a sense, is fine when you consider context.
The Hollywood casting system and media landscape in America is a large, hulking, intrinsically racist (sexist, ableist, phobic, etc) institution. You’ve gotta start somewhere. The only problem is “somewhere” could’ve been started more aggressively and systematically generations ago. So even if this diversity is rightful, and to an extent it is, its ultimate impact is still tainted by a ingrained adherence to the same old things that allow award shows, nominations and which films get picked up to be about as white and straight as Mike Pence’s wintery shock top. Which, is completely antithetical to the entire idea of diversity as it’s been set forth damn near every time the conversation has come up in the last fo’five decades. Soooo…yeah, we’re back at square one. Either way, I wanna support. But I’m honestly not with it. Big Daddy Kane once said “ain’t no half-steppin.” And while I think he wasn’t talking about industry-wide casting practices and financial opportunities, I’m not totally sure he wasn’t — the man was a prophet with silky chest hair I tell you!
The Fifth Movement
The final chapters of The OOOUUA hit us with a series of weird lefts and U-Turns. We have a “is she telling the truth?” subplot (which, doesn’t totally make sense because of a large plot point, but I’ll let you figure that out) and we have some very contentious moments with Young Lost MA’s parents. But overall, we’re really just tryna find out how this show started off very ambitiously and ends with a weak-ass segue into a school shooting-turned-danceoff-turned ….shooting.
We went through all this spooky-dooky-sci-fi-mythological shit, just to see somebody get shot in the heart. We spend all this time trying to dig deep into the tenets and rules of its world. And it literally ends with something that could’ve been handled in the first 4 episodes (maybe even 3?) ACCORDING TO ITS OWN RULES. There’s nothing more terrible than when a world breaks its own rules just to get to a point (unless of course there are new rules that preside over this misdirection.)
Now granted, the episode ends on a cliffhanger. So, to that above point, maybe there’s an extra level of hocus-pocus that we aren’t privy to yet that will explain all. But the ending just didn’t feel earned, and I’m wincing writing this, realistic. Nor did it make me feel, which is probably the most damning part and most likely a result of the previous two offenses. In what way is a (note that they made damn sure it was an anonymous hwite kid doing the shooting) kid with a gun gonna not shoot at the first person who makes a sudden movement? I get it, I do: it’s supposed to be one of those time wimey wibbly wobbly things where you suspend your belief (if you haven’t already) in order to be inspired by the power(less) rangers coming together to do a dance number.
But c’mon yo. It felt like it was cashing an emotional check that its narrative ass couldn’t carry. And that makes me big mad. Because I really want to like The OOOUUA. And because I’ll be one of the first to adamantly say that Netflix deserves to take these risks. As I said in my written soliloquy that somehow passed as a review of Arrival, scifi (and to a larger extent genre-leaning projects) is about world-building and taking chances, all of which won’t be exactly pretty or coherent. But, in the case of The OOOUUA, the pursuit of form is often at odds with function in such a way that I can’t reconcile how the show decides to tell its story and how it wants you to feel about its story. It wants you to be weepy and reflective, but you’ll probably just have the wild gasface and wondering what else is on through all 8 episodes.
At nearly every major turn, the disconnect between a high-concept idea (angels making portals through dance and the people who pursue them) and a fairly low-concept structure (a band of ragtag individuals are brought together to discover themselves and more) is very clear. Instead of joining these two into a single unit, that could be 50/50, 75/25, etc, The OOOUUA is about as interpretive with its cohesion as it is with its dancing. And that’s highly frustrating because this show doesn’t need a lot to make you care about characters and make enough sense to drive its story forward (inward? outward? who knows.)
So I don’t know exactly what to tell ya’ll. The OOOUUA has great concepts and even greater ambitions. But in reality, it watches like a half-baked show that grabs for aesthetics without delivering some structures needed to make them hit in a way that sticks. And that’s a little sad, because as much as I’ve ragged on it, I am really, really ready to know what happens next season.
Maybe that means I’m just a sucker for consuming content at all hours of the night. Or maybe I just need shit to write about because we’re a teeny little blog from Oakland and we really need the page views. Or, possibly, The OOOUUA is better than we think it is.
You decide, fam. While you do, I’ll be in the backyard working on my dance moves.
Dap owns Timberland boots and is committed to loving black women, eating good food and diversifying media as he sees fit and while he can. He can be found yelling into the abyss and being snarky on the following: IG | Twitter