Review: Orange Is the New Black… Netflix Knocks It Out of the Park

Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman
Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman

Brilliant! Kill your television, folks, you won’t need it anymore. Orange is the New Black is powered by blockbuster performances from pretty much everyone in its ensemble cast, and on a bad day, it is a dark, deeply written, emotionally poignant drama interspersed with hilariously comedic moments. The only drawback you’re like likely to find is the excruciating wait until the next season airs. Unlike the archaic, dinosaurian, one-episode-per-week method of meting out a series, Netflix plays to its unique format by offering each of their original series en masse, a seasonful at a time. While this is great for delving into their syrupy rich subplots, it inevitably results in cold-turkey withdrawals, which kick in the moment credits roll on the season finale. There’s no methadone for this addiction. It’s cold comfort to know the rush of next season will certainly soothe the DT’s I’m suffering through now. But I digress, onto the meat and potatoes.

Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, the story centers on Piper Chapman’s (played by Taylor Schilling) experience in prison, interspersed with myriad flashbacks from her, and many of her fellow prisoners, since the show delves into a thick spiderweb of subplots. Stand out performances include Kate Mulgrew (known to nerds as Star Trek:Voyager’s Captain Janeway) as Galina ‘Red’ Reznikov, played with a convincing Russian accent and deep, moody conviction; Laverne Cox as transgender prisoner Sophia Burset, who deftly explores the complicated intricacies of switching genders; and Pablo Schreiber, who perfectly plays corrupt prison guard George “Pornstache” Mendez, oozing cruelty, yet with a subtle hint of inner motivations steeped in sadness. One lingering casting question is whether Jason Biggs (who plays Chapman’s fiance) will ever get to play a character who doesn’t masturbate on camera?

Traditional press outlets were shocked Netflix approved a second season of Lionsgate’s Orange is the New Black before the series even debuted. That’s such a television way of thinking, because ratings aside, anyone with a pulse, upon watching this series, can clearly see it’s groundbreaking entertainment, more than worthy of cooking up another season’s fix. Netflix has made it abundantly clear they’re steering their own ship, and will listen directly to their viewers before pandering to the critics.

Apparently the model is working, as their offerings were showered with a head turning 14 Emmy nominations this year, with nine going to House of Cards, including best drama, and acting nods for the mesmerizing performances of its lead actors, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. Jason Bateman of Arrested Development got a best comedy actor nod, one of three nominations for that series’ long awaited return. This is the first time in history series distributed via the Internet were nominated in top Emmy categories.

I realize many of you may watch Netflix ON your television, instead of your laptop, as I do. In this case, your TV should be given a death sentence reprieve.

By Seth Aronson