Warning: This article contains SPOILERS for The OA.
Why has Netflix canceled Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij's The OA after just two seasons? One of Netflix's strangest and trippiest shows, The OA was conceived by Marling and Batmanglij back in 2012. It stars Marling herself as Prairie, or "The Original Angel", a girl who survived multiple near-death experiences.
The OA season 2 revealed that Prairie was not only telling the truth about her experiences, but in fact was traversing the Multiverse. It ended with a cliffhanger twist in which the stars jumped into a reality loosely based on our own, where they were actors working on The OA TV show. Unfortunately, in spite of the promise of a surreal and meta third season, Netflix has officially canceled The OA. But why?
The cancellation is disappointing news, not least because The OA had a five-season plan. It's also part of a recent slew of cancellations, which include the likes of Tuca and Bertie, Designated Survivor, She's Gotta Have It, and Chambers. Asked about this pattern, CEO Reed Hastings told Variety that it's simply the result of balancing costs against viewership. "We can have small shows that do very well, we can have expensive shows that do very well," he explained. "The only case where we end up canceling is where it’s pretty expensive and not so much viewing."
Netflix has traditionally allowed shows three seasons before cancellation, but the streaming giant is becoming more ruthless. That's most likely due to a change in the streaming sector, with Netflix facing increased competition. Making matters worse, a high unsubscribing rate suggests that viewers no longer see Netflix as the default for original content. In the past, Netflix could allow so-called "sleeper" shows to exist on their streaming service, receiving less attention on launch but being recommended to subscribers based on the Netflix algorithms. Now, there's evidence viewers are subscribing when the latest season of a high-profile show like Stranger Things drops, and are then promptly unsubscribing when they've finished the season. Shows like The OA are sadly a lot less competitive in this new context.
The standard Netflix contract reportedly contains a clause preventing new seasons being made elsewhere for a substantial period of time. Marvel Television, for example, is believed to be unable to use the various Marvel Netflix characters until two years after the recent cancellations; One Day At A Time's contract was less restrictive, allowing Pop TV to save the Latinx comedy after Netflix pulled the plug. In the case of The OA, Brit Marling's mournful comments on Instagram sadly suggest that the show can't be picked up elsewhere for quite some time, and as a result is most likely over. It's a disappointing finish to a story that's been in the works for seven years, made worse by the cliffhanger ending.