Netflix remained confident and poised regardless of the mixed reviews from the much-ballyhooed return of Arrested Development because they knew they had an ace in the hole. That ace took the form of the refreshingly off-kilter women’s prison comedic-drama Orange is the New Black, from Weeds creator Jenji Kohan. Any doubts that the public might have about Netflix as a threat to the likes of HBO or other premium cable should fully be cast aside, because OITNB is yet another brilliant success for the ever-growing outlet and only solidifies it more as a major player in TV.
In addition to getting to speak to Jenji and the show’s star Taylor Schilling for my interview, I also got to see the first three episodes of the season entitled Pilot, Tit Punch & Lesbian Request Denied and yes, those titles are a good indication of the humor and outlandish nature of the world of Litchfield Prison.
The story is based on the memoir by Piper Kerman and follows the renamed Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) as she prepares for and then enters prison for trafficking a large sum of money ten years ago for her one-time lesbian girlfriend, played by Laura Prepon (That 70’s Show) as told through flashbacks. Piper is currently living a nice, quiet existence with her fiancée Larry Bloom (Jason Biggs) as their life of lemon cleanses and Mad Men watching is uprooted for maxi-pad shower sandals and prison food.
[pullquote_left]OITNB is, plain and simple a solid, original show from the writing to the performances and will quickly become addictive viewing.[/pullquote_left]OITNB is, plain and simple, a solid original show from the writing to the performances and will quickly become addictive viewing. Taylor Schilling is excellent in a star-making turn and she’s surrounded by equally impressive performances with nary a weak link. Every one of her fellow inmates instantly embodies their character while standing apart from each other and even the prison staff are fascinating, funny and at times scary. Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek: Voyager) as Red and Natasha Lyonne (American Pie) as Nicky are the two inmates that stood out most to me in the first three episodes.
[pullquote_right]While this show skews more dark and realistic than Kohan’s Weeds it isn’t without its laughs but balanced with dramatic moments.[/pullquote_right]While this show skews more dark and realistic than Kohan’s Weeds it isn’t without its laughs but balanced with dramatic moments. The biggest drawbacks are all minor and involve some clichéd storylines with her family that seem like they’ve been done before a million times, and the occasional gross-out humor. But as one of the characters so aptly mentions “This isn’t Oz,” referencing the insane obscenely violent HBO prison series. Sure, OITNB will make you uncomfortable at times but it will also make you laugh and maybe even move you. Isn’t that all we ask for in great TV? Personally, I can’t wait to continue the sentence with this excellent series when it debuts on Netflix on July 11th.
Just about every performance. The dark humor. The opening credits and Regina Spektor theme song. The addictive nature of the show. The Jodie Foster directed episode Lesbian Request Denied. The fact it’s already renewed for Season 2.
A few clichés and predictable storylines. Occasionally the hour long episodes feel a bit too long. Not a whole let else.
Easily one of the most entertaining, well-crafted shows this year and if the show maintains the quality beyond the first three episodes it might be a strong contender for this season’s crop of Emmy nominations.