The Watchman: Getting Carried 'OA' on Netflix; 'Mary Jane' Takes Manhattan

We didn't quite get to binge the whole of The OA over the holidays, as many did. But we got through all eight episodes while January was still in the single digits.

Plenty have noted The OA’s similarities to Netflix stablemate Stranger Things. After all, both feature kids on bikes headed for a fresh, parent-free adventure involving a mystery girl with super powers and a nose that tends to leak blood just before disaster strikes. (Mind you, some of the OA kids are probably old enough to drive.) Both feature a high school lothario prick named Steve. At one point in The OA, a character is even seen watching, yes, Stranger Things.

Yet The OA is very much its own animal, offering glimpses of life after death, those crazy “Movements” that enable its practitioners to traipse toward alternate realities, and of course Phyllis from The Office.

Similar but different—that’s how we’ll describe The OA and Stranger Things. And that’s how Will Packer, executive producer on Being Mary Jane, describes his series’ new season, which starts on BET Jan. 10. “When you have a show that’s been around for three years, you want to make sure it stays true to its spirit and tone and everything the audience loves about it,” he says. “Yet you want to take it in a new direction.”

News anchor Mary Jane has relocated from Atlanta to New York, taking up with a morning show that looks a bit like Good Morning America or Today. “She used to be the big dog,” says Packer. “Now she’s not the big dog, and she’s not the only black female there either.”

Several real-life politicians make cameos in season 4, including New Jersey senator Cory Booker. Packer says the senator plays himself—only a different version.

Sticking with that same-but-different theme, Thursday marks a year since Freeform was hatched, as the cable network put to rest the misleading ABC Family moniker. The social snarks tore into the new name, but Tom Ascheim, Freeform president, says the rebrand has successfully changed perceptions about the network.

“Audiences used to credit ABC Family as being wholesome, but not particularly modern or relevant,” says Ascheim. “Conversely, our audience believes Freeform to be modern, cool, unique and, perhaps most importantly, made for them.”

Freeform is freestyling its distribution a bit, with the whole first season of Beyond made available last week. Also coming up—Famous in Love in April. That soapy drama comes from Pretty Little Liars mastermind Marlene King and promises to be similar to the Rebecca Serle novel on which it’s based.

Only, ya know, different.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.