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Procrastination Station: A Review of ‘The OA’

        You know those actors that in your mind have really specific confines? The ones who are so rooted in their ‘gimmick’, that you couldn’t see them playing but one type of role? For me, it’s Matthew McConaughey that comes to mind. I know he’s been spicing it up in recent years, with roles in Dallas Buyers Club and the like. But, it’s hard to see him as anyone but enter white guy name here, a fast-talking-man-child-playboy who gets changed  by sweet and quirky enter blonde girl name here. He does this role well, don’t get me wrong. It’s why I can only see him this way.

        It’s the same for me with Phyllis Smith, who played iconic Phyllis Vance on The Office. Her ‘gimmick’ of being the sweet simpleton who owns the duplex next door may be even more rooted in her filmography than Matthew McConaughey’s. She has stepped out of it a little more recently by starring in the film Inside Out, her first major motion picture. However, when I saw her credited as starring in the new Netflix series The OA, I couldn’t help but crinkle up my nose in confusion. Phyllis Smith? In a show that, although I’ve never watched it before, reeks of science fiction? I couldn’t picture it. But, as I breezed through my latest binge watching crazes and was subsequently left with no other procrastinating material, I decided to take a chance on the eight episode series that had been looming in my suggested section. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my procrastinating career thus far. And as I got deeper into the show, realized Phyllis Smith could rock the sci-fi genre with ease.

        The OA is a sci-fi/mystery series created by and starring Brit Marling, who I had never heard of before. She’s acclaimed in the indie community for starring in and creating films such as The East and The Sound of my Voice, both falling into the realm of either sci-fi or thriller (I highly recommend both). This fact immediately earned The OA brownie points for me, because who doesn’t love an empowering ‘girl boss’ story, right?

        The OA centers around Prairie Johnson, a young woman who has returned home to suburban Michigan after having went missing seven years ago without a trace. From the disturbing hieroglyphic scars on her back, to her refusal to speak to the authorities, Prairie’s return lacks the warm-and-fuzziness you’d expect from a missing person’s homecoming. However, the biggest unknown that gains her the media title of “The Michigan Miracle” is that she returns with one thing she didn’t have before she went missing–her sight. With all of the mystery surrounding their family, Prairie’s parents attempt to re-introduce her to her old life, but with all of the missing pieces can’t seem to find success, as the past seven years continue to follow them.

        Although Prairie’s story is kept ambiguous for the most part, what we do know is that she has some type of unfinished business involving her disappearance. She enlists the help of an unlikely band of misfits, most of which are high school students, to whom she relays the truth about where she’s been and her life story. She tells them that there are others she left behind, that they are lost in another dimension (which is where all the sci-fi goodness comes in), and requires the help of this band of misfits to find them. All of this takes them on a journey that involves  near death experiences, Russian Conspiracies, evil scientists, and an even greater truth that they will all learn about themselves and each other. In more or less words, it’s not the kind of show you can just watch for background noise. If that’s what you’re looking for, please proceed to Cupcake Wars.

        One thing that I think makes The OA such an addictive show, and perfect for procrastinating, is the way that each episode, or ‘chapter’ flows into the next one. Like a book with no chapters, it’s hard to find a stopping point, and therefore feels like a long movie that you just have to finish. The show stretches your imagination so many ways and causes you to question everything you know about reality. The sets are so intricately designed and are unlike anything you’ve seen before, so that although it’s set in the present day (as far as I know) you still feel like you’re being catapulted into the future.

        My only complaint is the lack of development in the supporting characters. Although we get snippets about their lives here and there, I still wish there would’ve been more. Mostly because I’m the type that hates ambiguity, and wants to know every character’s life story, but if screenwriters played into this desire by laying it all out on the table, there’d be nothing keeping us in for later episodes and seasons, so I digress.

        The topic of characters, however, sends me back to my anecdote on Phyllis Smith. Phyllis plays Betty Broderick-Allen, a teacher at the local high school. Betty is similar to Phyllis Vance, in the sense that she’s a sweet, lackluster, middle aged woman, but has a streak of bravery and strength that separates her from the stereotypical character you’d expect her to be. She makes a big sacrifice for Prairie and her mission, and ultimately comes to a matter of life and death to save Prairie and the others.

        The intersectionality of people and stories on this show is the thing that speaks the most about it. Whether you like sci-fi or not, this show will definitely captivate your attention and keep you wanting more. It reminds you that people, and life and general, have layers, and that there’s more than meets the eye to every situation or idea you encounter.

        As far as a distractibility level goes, I’d give this series a nine out of ten, mostly because it’s so smart and captivating that it makes you remember you’re pushing off studying and schoolwork, and therefore continuing to not be as smart and clever as Brit Marling. A good snack pairing I’d consider while you binge watch this show would be popcorn with chocolate chips mixed in. A perfect mixture of salty and sweet that doesn’t require too much handiwork or utensils, because you’ll be so busy trying to keep up with the plot that you won’t have time for frivolous things like table manners.


The OA is available on Netflix. If you don’t have an account, I’d consider bribing somebody on your residence hall floor with snacks to give you their password.

(Lead image credit: Netflix, body image credit: 1)

Olivia is a Creative Writing major at Rhodes College. She is a twice published novelist, and has had work featured in Fresh U, GrrlPunch Magazine, and The Bridge Street Paper (Memphis, TN). 
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