Over the past two months, I’ve made it my mission to catch up with the various much-hyped shows I missed over the past two years. I was fascinated (and disturbed) by True Detective, completely mesmerized by House of Cards, and somewhat disappointed by Orphan Black. Next up on my list was Netflix’s breakout prison dramedy, Orange Is The New Black, And let me say straight up: this show is a downright stunner.
The best thing Orange has going for it is its terrific cast. The world of Litchfield is wonderfully realized, and it’s populated by a magnificent cast of characters. Through a Lost-esque format, each of the prison’s inmates gets a moment in the spotlight thanks to revelatory flashbacks and some gripping backstories. However, through all the outrageous plots and nutty plot-twists, the show never once loses sight of its characters. From the mental shenanigans of Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, to Big Boo’s hilarious lesbian escapades, every single member of the cast is multidimensional, with numerous flashbacks shedding insight on their colorful histories and damaged psyches.
It’s no surprise that Orange is an extremely witty and intelligent show. Jenji Kohan, the show’s creator, is also the mastermind behind Showtime’s suburban dark comedy Weeds, a show that eventually went off the rails (and who wouldn’t after eight seasons?), but which was still unlike anything else on television when it first debuted. But Orange is a much more consistent show, and I’m hoping Jenji now has the necessary experience to make sure this unique production never loses its luster. The show’s debut season is a stellar one across the board, and the finale bookends the season’s narrative with one heck of a thrilling cliffhanger.
Something interesting happened in Orange‘s second season. The show threw Piper Chapman to the sidelines and started focusing on the rest of the cast to an even greater degree. It was a subtle shift, but it’s one that surprisingly worked by further fleshing out the wacky world of Litchfield.
Season two was particularly successful in its attempts to introduce a powerful and sinister new villain with the character of Vee. Pensatucky was mildly effective in season one, but Lorraine Toussaint completely stole the show with her wicked brand of evil and deceit. The character never became a mustache-twirling baddie, with a whole lot of depth right until the finale. In addition, her various manipulations made one of the show’s central characters, Red (played to perfection by Kate Mulgrew) an even more captivating presence. I won’t spoil anything here, but their dynamic is an undisputed highlight of the season.
Sadly, Orange has one glaring flaw that’s apparent throughout both seasons: Larry. Every single time the show cut to showcase Larry’s life outside of prison, I found myself counting the minutes until we returned to the characters I actually cared about. It boggles my mind that Jenji and her team of writers couldn’t see how useless and dull the character was. Although his storyline finally dovetailed with Piper and Polly towards the end, it still wasn’t enough to erase all the horrible screentime we had to endure with Jason Biggs, an actor with exactly zero charisma. A real shame.
Oh yes, and the season’s final moment is an absolute knockout.
Soso: God. This is the loneliest place I’ve ever been and I lived in a tree for eight months.
Sister Ingalls: I’ve masturbated. There was this statute of Jesus that was especially ripped; that was my guy.
Rosa: It’s not the dying that’s hard. It’s that I have to do it here. The last thing I have to see is you assholes.
Taystee: So I’m sitting there, barbecue sauce on my titties…
Piper: He’s a hit man? Oh I thought he was a rapist. I’m so relieved!
Piper: Oooh. Maria might be in labor. Could you Google symptoms? They’re taking bets. If I guess closest to the birth time I could win a Twix.
Daya: There’s too many people in here. It’s making the air feel weird.
Aleida: It’s mostly farts.
Pensatucky: It’s a metaphor you potato with eyes!
Boo: Hey Kate Winslet, see any icebergs?
Red: If you want to assassinate someone, vision is a basic requirement. It’s like step 1, pick a person to kill. Step 2, kill the right person.
Poussey: Bitch, look around you. We in a prison complex. A cow breaks me out of here, I stop eating meat that day.
Healy: Behind every strong man is a strong, cunt-faced witch monster.
Gloria: Yeah, well I’d give my left tit for a pina colada and a smoke, but you don’t see that on the menu, right?
Bold and consistently sharp, Orange Is The New Black is a highly addictive show with one of the most exceptional casts on television.