Monday, December 19, 2016

In the fictional labyrinth of The OA (spoiler alert) the cure for death is doing the haka in the style of Pan's People

George Melly (centre) offers insights
 into mortality and munchie science in
krrrrazy Netflix drama, The OA

Bloody noses. What is it with the bloody noses? In every dystopian, faintly futuristic serial, it happens. The blankly beautiful person with the extra powers, the super senses, the wonky circuits, ejaculates but does not coagulate, so the red stuff runs down their pretty face like a sign of overstretched humanity, or effort, or weakness. It happens in The OA (Netflix), a gorgeous, overambitious attempt to take the stuff of teen alienation and dress it in the logic of semi-stoned psychedelic enquiry. You might wonder why it’s always the nose, when other brands of surprising teenage blood are available, but to think about that would be to embark on a more complicated investigation into adolescent weirdness than is currently permitted on the geeky side of Main Street. 
What is The OA about? Death, mostly. There is a girl, a beautiful, blank, blonde girl (series co-creator/writer Brit Marling), who can cheat mortality. The method - and you have to wait six hours to uncover this, so leave the planet now if you don’t want to know the result - is a form of interpretative dance. Yes, no, yes: not since The Kids From Fame sprayed their choreographed narcissism into the ozone layer have the creative arts been bestowed with such magical potential. Frankly, the dance is daft, and there is a moment, which happens to be the climactic scene of the whole series, in which the creators’ faith in the idea that fate can be altered by doing the haka in the style of Pan’s People seems optimistic. Or laughable. The only defence is one of Dada-ist absurdity, like the time George Melly fought off a mugger by reciting a poem comprised entirely of nonsense, delivered with gusto from behind a pinstriped jazz-belly. 
You want some plot, Jock? The OA is about a girl who goes missing, and comes back. She has stories to tell about where she has been. The yarns are about NDAs, or near-death experiences, some of which go further than near. The freaks and geeks of the town inhale these stories, because they play to their overdeveloped sense of preciousness, and the crazy kids are heavily seasoned with the logic of freshly-discovered mortality and munchie science, in which cheese dreams are hyped into night terrors and alienation is celebrated in a way that is absolutely inclusive, because, underneath it all, we’re all geeks, except the geeks, who are secretly great. “Weird is good,” says a doctor in episode three, though the doctor is not all that he seems. The title? (Again, if you don’t want to know, put on noise-cancelling headphones. Teleport to an alternate reality. Do not pass “Go”.) It’s a kind of sound thing, because the girl goes away. Her real name is Prairie. As in open. Because she is.
The first couple of minutes are very good. They are - or seem to be - iPhone footage of an attempted suicide. But after that, you have to ask, how much of this story is really true, because much of is delivered by Prairie, in the manner of a campfire ghost story with fairytale logic?  The soufflé sags in the middle, but mostly it’s generically sincere (“What’s Kubrick?” asks a stoner, after a particularly Big Brother-ish moment of enforced captivity). There’s a lot of self-helpy, therapeutic mumbo-jumbo, and (go back to a previous life if you don’t want to know) a shock. OK. One spoiler. You know that light at the end of the tunnel you see when you die? It’s not a tunnel. It’s a place. 
And now, the dance. 

Serial Box 
Episode two of This Is Us (All 4) was directed by Ken Olin. Ken has done many great things in his creative life, but he will always be Michael from thirtysomething, the soapy (and now unwatchable) drama about peeved middle-class Americans who had it all and were still antsy. In 25 years - possibly sooner - This is Us will be unwatchable, but it offers a reliable roadmap of how mainstream American telly approaches diversity. There are three kids. One is a just-gay-enough stupid white male actor (successful but unhappy). One is a black male commodities broker with a crack addict dad. The third is a female fatty in a culture of judgmental skinnies. There is also a TV network boss, whose thwarted ambition is to be “drifting on morphine”.