Monday, January 16, 2017

TV: When the missing return

NETFLIX's THE OA and FREE FORM's BEYOND both debuted (or were dumped online for binging) in the last few weeks.


The two series explore similar premises -- the supernatural as entered into by a young person.

But what's really interesting about the two shows is how women are treated.

THE OA revolves around Prarie Johnson (Brit Marling) who disappeared for seven years after graduating high school.  Holden (Burkely Duffield) is the focus of BEYOND and he 'disappeared' for 12 years -- he was in a coma during that period.  The 13-year-old spends 12 years in the "Beyond" and learns various skills.

Prarie has an ability to go into other planes due to what happened to her while she was held hostage and she also got her eyesight back.

So we have a woman who can now see who disappeared after she became an adult.

And yet, her parents take her door off of her bedroom, are bothered by where she goes and consider whether or not she needs to be medicated and/or committed.

Contrast that with Holden's parents who freak out the first morning after he's out of a coma and wanders in the front door in his boxers and a t-shirt after being . . .  Well, it was the woods, but he actually never tells them that.  He lies that he needed some air and they assume it's perfectly acceptable for a 25-year-old male body to parade through the  neighborhood in his underwear.

They're never bothered by the fact that he's had no life experiences since going into coma so he's basically a 13-year-old boy still.

There's no effort made to take the door off his bedroom or to insist that he be medicated or put away.

They don't even notice that he's still waking up in the woods in his underwear.

They don't notice much.

BEYOND assumes that a (male) child needs space to grow.

THE OA insists that a (female) adult is not capable of making her own decisions -- even though she's a high school graduate.

Where THE OA betters BEYOND is in story telling.

Moments register because it's not hammering you over the head repeatedly.

Moments register because things matter from one moment to the next, because events are set up and there is pay off.

By contrast, BEYOND chugs along non-stop.

It's as though there's no thought behind the show.

For example, if you were a 13-year-old boy when you went into coma and you're 25-years-old now, you might notice that your body has changed.

Holden is giving one brief second to note this.

He's shirtless in his bathroom.

In wonder, he briefly runs his palm across the morning scruff on his face.

And that's it.

In that same scene, viewers are probably more aware of Holden's body then he is.

We're talking about the hairy chest that's reflected in the mirror while he's stroking his jaw.

Seriously, chest hair wouldn't get a moment's glance or register to the formerly 13-year-old?

It's all rush, rush, rush in BEYOND with no pay off.

It's like a Saturday morning cartoon with one event after another and nothing ever really standing out because the whole point is to keep things moving from incident to incident before someone gets bored.

By taking moments, by letting the story breathe, THE OA leaves viewers caring.

When things don't add up on BEYOND, you're not left wondering what that means, you're just rushed off into another cliffhanger.  When it's not making sense on THE OA, you're left to wonder if Prarie made the whole thing up?

You also care about the supporting characters on THE OA -- especially Steve (Patrick Gibson), Betty (Phyllis Smith, following up her teacher role in BAD TEACHER playing another teacher), Brandon Perea (French), Brendan Meyer (Jesse) and Buck (Ian Alexander).

If Prarie's made it all up, what does it mean for the four who were with her?

The show resonates while BEYOND gets by on thrills that never add up and the very natural appeal of Burkely Duffield.  As a result, BEYOND isn't a failure but it's far from the more mature slate that the former ABC FAMILY has been promising since it changed its name to FREE FORM.

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