Why Netflix's The OA Was Canceled - Here's What We Know

Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij's Netflix series "The OA" never exactly took the world by storm, but by the time the show was abruptly canceled in 2019, it had certainly left a mark as one of the most unconventional pieces of science fiction storytelling of the modern era. To even attempt to concisely sum up the plot would be a fool's errand – I mean, this is a show that features a telepathic octopus and a series of dance moves that help prevent a school shooting, to name just two of its weirder aspects – but the show helped to shake up the idea of traditional episode lengths, and its cancelation sparked an outcry from its devoted fanbase. Someone even went on a hunger strike in front of Netflix's offices in an attempt to get the streamer to reverse its decision about ending the series.

Here's what we know about why Netflix decided to end the show after season 2, instead of allowing Marling and Batmanglij to complete their full plan to tell the story across five seasons.

Why It Got The Axe

While Netflix executives never publicly explained why they canceled the show, the conventional wisdom at the time pointed to the reason as a combination of factors, arguably the biggest of which was that Netflix was rarely letting any of its original series to run beyond three seasons. The thinking was that because actors and creatives could renegotiate pay raises after reaching a certain threshold of episodes or seasons, it made more corporate sense for Netflix to avoid paying those extra fees and just cancel the show altogether, putting those resources toward a new show that had the potential to be a "Stranger Things" or "Squid Game"-style breakout hit.

In an interview with RadioTimes, "The OA" actor Jason Isaacs explained that the cancelation was a business decision instead of one that was based on low viewership numbers:

I was crushed [when "The OA" was cancelled]. It's one of the odd things that happen in the new media world that you're cancelled not because of numbers, but because of other corporate needs. Netflix needs to build subscribers and they make their decisions on a bunch of other things, which are not to do with the number of people watching, more to do with how many people they can get to sign up. I know the Netflix execs who made the decision to cancel it felt equally sad because they had five seasons mapped out and the show has this rabid committed fanbase. Those people felt very upset. I wouldn't want to be sitting in the Netflix executive chairs!

Co-creator Brit Marling wrote a long response when the cancelation happened, which is worth reading in full if you missed it at the time.

Is The Co-Creator Teasing a Return to the Universe?

In May of this year, Batmanglij shared some mysterious photos on his Instagram account, which some fans have linked to a quote from the show: YCFM, or "You come find me." The first photo was yellow, the next was cyan, a third featured the letter "f," and a fourth was magenta (YCFM). This sparked Reddit theories that he might be teasing an impending announcement about a third season. He has since deleted his Twitter and Instagram accounts altogether, which added fuel to the speculation fire.

Also this past summer, word came out that Marling and Batmanglij were working on a new show for FX called "Retreat," a murder mystery show with a Gen Z detective at the center of the case. In all likelihood, though, "Retreat" won't have anything to do with "The OA." If it did, it would mark an arguably unprecedented instance of cooperation between rival companies Netflix and FX. Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman once famously wrote that in Hollywood, "nobody knows anything." I'd argue that there's an exception to that rule: companies almost never go out of their way to work directly with competitors unless there is an obscene amount of money to be made for both sides. And since producing more of a cerebral and totally bonkers sci-fi show does not make executives' eyes turn into dollar signs, it seems like we've truly seen the last of "The OA."