Before I begin, I'd just like to say I'm a fan of Netflix's latest original series, The OA. I think it's a compelling, strange, original story, I think it leaves just enough mystery to inspire excited and passionate discussions, and I think it's just generally very well done. As much as I love the show, though, it's hard to discuss it without bringing in another huge Netflix series, one that could arguably be called the best new TV show of 2016: Stranger Things.
On the surface, The OA and Stranger Things are pretty different shows. The narratives spiral in completely different directions. What I'd argue, though, is that the skeletons of each project share a lot of bones. On its own, The OA is a strong show, but with this other huge sci-fi show in the mix, and so recently at that, The OA is simply unable to make its full impact. Before I make the final call, I think it's important to call out each of the two series' biggest shared attributes. Careful, I'm going to spoil the ending below.
- A strange girl with a mysterious background: On paper, Eleven and Prairie have plenty that sets them apart. Eleven was more or less cultivated in a lab, and she's still a very young girl during the series. Prairie grew up, blind, with her parents, until she was wrenched away by Hap. Once the events of each respective show begin, though, they very much serve the same role. They disrupt the normalcy of each sleepy, small town. Eleven appears as some sort of otherworldly presence with supernatural abilities. Prairie returns with her sight restored, and . . . well, she appears as some sort of otherworldly presence with supernatural abilities.
- A band of misfits: Again, the groups in Stranger Things and The OA are pretty far apart, but they still serve a similar purpose. In the former, Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will ultimately serve as pillars to help Eleven achieve her objective: to stop the Demogorgon. On The OA, Buck, Betty, French, Jesse, and Steve also serve as helpers to Prairie as she tries to accomplish her mission.
- The sacrificial, Christ-like figure: What's so interesting about both shows is the deaths of these mysterious central figures. Eleven sacrifices herself to stop the Demogorgon and save Hawkins. Prairie takes a bullet from the school shooter in the cafeteria. Both deaths are ambiguous; Eleven vanishes without a trace, which interestingly leaves hope of her return. Prairie wakes up in an all-white room that you could interpret as some vague, figurative "heaven." Or maybe she really does survive. In both cases, it's this death in the story's climax that ultimately stands out.
- The use of the sci-fi genre, with a twist: OK, Stranger Things veers pretty hard into the sci-fi territory. There's a creepy monster creature, telepathic abilities, a top secret organization, the list goes on. Even so, I'd argue it's a riff on the sci-fi genre, in the sense that there are horror and mystery elements tangled in. The same goes for The OA: we're clearly dealing with sci-fi themes when you account for multi-dimensional travel and Hap's whole "prison" situation. Again, though, the series sometimes dips into other genres like drama and fantasy.
You might be wondering where I'm going with this. Again, I want to reiterate that Stranger Things and The OA are very, very different shows. That said, they're just similar enough that it's hard to watch one without thinking of the other. In another year, at another time, The OA would have made a much more stellar impact on the TV landscape. Because of Stranger Things, though, it just gives me a lingering sense of déjà vu.