“The OA” is a lot like “Stranger Things” except it’s not really like “Stranger Things.”
Similarities: They are both fantasy/sci-fi series that seemingly showed up out of nowhere on Netflix. They both gained immediate buzz. They are both addictive.
But that’s about where the similarities end. “Stranger Things” purposely went for an ’80s fantasy vibe, while “The OA” is completely adult from its very beginning and certainly to its end. Included in its heady mix of subjects are mental illness, spiritual journeys, self-mutilation, torture, psychic premonitions, higher consciousness, alternate dimensions and — what else? — true love.
This is all orchestrated by the creative team of Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, indie film auteurs (“The Sound of My Voice,” “The East”) now exploring the open landscape of streaming television and making the most of the opportunity.
What’s the show specifically about? One has to be careful not to give too much away, because the storylines are both mind-boggling and thoroughly unexpected.
Suffice to say a young woman named Prairie (Marling) returns to her Michigan home after disappearing seven years earlier. When she disappeared she was blind; when she returns she has sight and is dubbed The Michigan Miracle by the media. (The series wasn’t actually filmed here).
Over the course of eight episodes Prairie tells the story of where she’s been to a motley crew of five people in the current day as the audience watches that story play out over the years of her disappearance. Let’s just say she didn’t spend the time on a beach sipping cocktails.
The acting talent here is plentiful. Along with Marling there’s Emory Cohen (“Brooklyn”), Phyllis Smith (“The Office”), Alice Krige and Scott Wilson as Prairie’s parents, Riz Ahmed (“The Night of”) and loads of others. And there’s some of the most wonderfully eccentric choreography imaginable. That’s right, choreography.
Anybody who’s followed Marling’s career will recognize her serial preoccupations here — the power of sight, alternate dimensions, the fine line between revelation and madness. “The OA” is in essence an eight-hour Brit Marling film. And that turns out to be a splendid, shocking, even mesmerizing thing indeed.
Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.
Contains nudity, sexuality, violence