TV Review: “Orange is the New Black” – Model Inmate

Written by Spencer Sterritt June 12, 2014

Orange is the New Black, Piper

“Orange is the New Black” is back even though it seems like it never left since the first season is still right in the middle of the social consciousness, and no one stopped talking about it. It also helps that season one has a chance at the upcoming Emmy’s. Season two rolls with this momentum and delivers a more audacious and moving season than anything Netflix has previously offered.

Picking up a month after last season’s cliffhanger, season two immediately whisks Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) off to Chicago for a standalone episode away from the prison that has been her home. Since season one drew so much acclaim for it’s vast supporting cast, premiering with a Piper-centric episode is a bold move, the first of many over the season. “Orange is the New Black” is more concerned with characters interacting and feuding with each other rather than plot, but a strong story-line does develop as a war breaks out inside the prison over smuggled goods. Each episode is still structured around the flashbacks of individual inmates, but every hour long episode is heavily serialized and intended to be binge-watched over a weekend.

“I don’t trust any of you crazy bitches.”

There’s so much hype and praise towards season one of “Orange is the New Black” that some worried it would go to show-runner Jenji Kohan’s head like it did with her last series, “Weeds.” Once “Weeds” had really hit the big time, it began to spiral and lost track of the interesting characters it had introduced. Thankfully that didn’t happen here. Piper Chapman is still ostensibly the main character – especially since she has the annoying habit of making everything about her – but everyone around her is just as or, in most cases, more interesting.

Orange is the New Black

The most refreshing part of watching “Orange is the New Black” is seeing how little Jenji Kohan and her actors care about making themselves likeable. Nearly everyone is an asshole on this show, whether they mean to be or not. So much of the drama comes from someone snapping and saying a harsh word, or trying to get what’s best for them at the expense of others. Serious shit goes down in the war between smugglers, and when people do irredeemable things the show doesn’t make them do something nice to compensate. People are assholes in real life, and though “Orange is the New Black” takes place in the very heightened reality of a thirteen episode dramedy it has some of the most authentic characterization of television.

“I always thought women’s prison would be more about community and girl power and stuff. But some of these women just seem crazy.”

If there’s one problem with this season of “Orange is the New Black” it’s that the show sometimes lack subtlety. For example, Piper and her ex-fiance Larry (Jason Biggs) have an argument in the visitors room about how selfish Piper is, and how unfocused Larry is. During their fight Larry is equated with the moon and Piper is like the sun. The analogy is obvious, but Larry still spits out as he leaves that no one can get too close to Piper because they’ll burn up since she’s like the sun.

Orange is the New Black, shit

Cases like this, where the writers turn the subtext into text, are rare. The bigger issue is how unsubtle the show is about it’s overall message that prisons are a terrible institution.  Not a single frame is wasted in showing how uncomfortable and cruel the conditions are at the prison, and the various security guards and administrators are given more time to emphasize how the prisoners aren’t the only ones trapped. Nearly every other conversation is about how prison is shitty. It constantly takes you out of the moment which is a shame given how skillfully the subtext is laid out.

“At least people can walk on the moon.”

Thankfully, season two of “Orange is the New Black” lives up to the incredible hype that preceded it’s premiere on Netflix. The show hasn’t backed away from any of it’s controversial subject matter, and it presents a harsh but funny view of life inside a prison that gets nearly every character right. Not everyone is likeable, but everyone is understandable. That gives “Orange is the New Black” an incredible hook to keep you watching the whole season over a weekend.

My Rating: 8/10

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About Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt: former Editor-In-Chief for We Eat Films, future President of the Men With Beards Club, and hopefully candidate for ruler of the world.

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