Here’s part four of our series on shows you might want to check out this summer. Just one show today and since it’s a returning show that I am quite familiar with, I’ll throw in a review, as well. Scroll to the bottom for the previous entries.
Orange Is the New Black is an American comedy-drama series created by Jenji Kohan and first released on Netflix on July 11, 2013. The series, produced by Tilted Productions in association with Lionsgate Television, is based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, about her experiences in prison. The series revolves on Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a bisexual woman living in New York City who is sentenced to 15 months in a women’s federal prisonfor transporting a suitcase full of drug money to her former girlfriend, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), who is an international drug smuggler. The offense occurred ten years prior to the start of the series, and in that time Piper had moved on to a quiet, law-abiding life among New York’s upper middle class. While in prison, Piper is reunited with Alex, and they re-examine their relationship and deal with their fellow inmates.
The highly-anticipated second season of Netflix’s drama (comedy-drama? No.) Orange is the New Black goes live at midnight and I’m thrilled because it ties in perfectly with our series of 37 Shows You Want to Check Out This Summer and because it allows me to finally get a whole bunch of things off my chest that the gushers (both audiences and critics alike) don’t seem to want to address about this series. Don’t get me wrong, I actually do enjoy Orange is the New Black (or else I wouldn’t be recommending it to check out this summer), but the show is far from perfect and the problems that it suffers from are glaring and unavoidable.
One of the first things that caught my attention in the pilot was the cheap premium cable device of gratuitous nudity and sex in order to hook an audience. HBO has been doing it for years (and I’ve been subsequently complaining about it for years) and whereas at one time it was used as an obvious gimmick when the writers had gone to the well one too many times and couldn’t come up with new ideas, it has now become obligatory with every show that the network airs. It’s not that I have an issue with sex and nudity on television, the issue is that when it’s vulgar and obvious and now since HBO does it all the time, so do all the other premium networks, including Netflix. NOTE TO NETFLIX: When you throw that much gratuitous sex and nudity into a pilot, it’s clear to astute audiences that you are compensating for what you lack in other areas.
So, what does Orange lack? Well, first and foremost, although the plot is compelling enough for me to want to keep watching it, it’s a slog. On more than one occassion, I have thought two hours had gone by because the show was dragging so much. I don’t mind a slow burn, but each episode is a slow-burn without much of an emotional payoff at the end. The only reason this show has found the success that it has is because it’s available for binge viewing because if it was a weekly series audiences wouldn’t have tolerated how slow it is past the third episode.
One of the other problems that I have with this show is that the producers have gone out of their way to say that the show isn’t Oz (well, no sh*t) but it’s obvious to anyone watching it that it certainly is an attempt at Oz (ultra-) light. It’s so blatantly ripping off aspects of Oz that you’d have to be an idiot not to see it. The crisis-of-the-week that revolves around a different main character with flashbacks of the character’s pre-prison life and backstory to develop that character? Nooooo, we’ve never seen that before. For crap’s sake, that’s not even unique to Oz. Lost did that for six seasons better than any show in history. That’s just the most glaring example of Oz ripoffs, I’m not going to get into all of them (recycled plotlines, stereotypical characters and situations, etc.) and honestly, it doesn’t really bother me that much because it does help develop the characters but it’s worth noting.
Speaking of character development, that is certainly one area where Orange excels with each primary cast member of the ensemble being given a good amount of screen time and attention by the writers. This may sound very fanboyish of me but I don’t think that anyone is going to dispute that the best performance of all on this show is that of Star Trek: Voyager‘s Captain Kathryn Janeway herself, Kate Mulgrew as the Russian mother-figure to the women, Galina “Red” Reznikov who runs the kitchen.
Equally notable is the underrated performance by the gorgeous Taryn Manning as the incredibly emotionally unbalanced, hillbilly meth addict, Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett. Manning really is quite outstanding and it should be noted what an incredible job the makeup department has done in “ugly-fying” her for this role and how she herself has been able to accomplish that job through her performance.
What hurts this show immensely, however, are the main protagonists and I guess the only reason I’m calling them the main protagonists is that the character of Piper (Taylor Schilling) is who the show is about and the other two, Larry (Jason Biggs) and Alex (Laura Prepon) are the two other sides of the “love triangle” as it were. Do you know what the problem is?
I hate them. I hate them all with a passion. They are the most spoiled, selfish, self-centered, self-righteous and arrogant characters on this show and they are completely unsympathetic. This is what I mean by how stupidly audiences and critics gush over this show. How is it possible that anyone who watches this show doesn’t want to just punch these people? Hell, how does one not want to punch the most annoying no-talent actor in Hollywood, Jason Biggs, to begin with, his performance on this show not withstanding? How the hell did he get this role to begin with? Seriously, his only claim to fame is that he f*cked a pie in an incredibly overrated teen comedy over a decade ago.
As for the other two, it’s not that Schilling or Prepon’s performances are bad, it’s that their characters (like Larry) suck and they are completely unlikable. They’re rotten, they treat people rotten, everything they do is about making themselves happy and they NEVER learn from their mistakes. It’s one thing to have your main characters be so flawed at the begining of a season, especially on a show set in a prison, it’s another thing not have the characters “grow” one iota between episode one and episode 13. These characters have actually regressed since episode one.
To put it simply, we’re supposed to hate the vile “Pornstache” (Pablo Schreiber). I get that. But we’re not supposed to hate our protagonists and that’s what the reality is of this series. They simply don’t have very much redeeming about them whatsoever.
Again, the real saving grace on this show is the performance from the supporting cast and the fact that I’m a sucker for decently done serialized drama and at the end of the day, Orange is the New Black is decently done, if not great. The key is to not expect more out of this series than it can give or you’ll be disappointed.
As for our multi-part series, 37 Shows That You Might Want To Check Out This Summer, here are the previous entries: