Kyle J. Steenblik

Orange Is the New Black: Season 1 [Review]

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Orange-Is-The-New-Black-TitleOrange Is the New Black is the best Netflix original series yet.  Which is saying quite a lot, and yet is really only best out of five (not counting content only distributed by Netflix).  Nevertheless, this series is actually an incredible viewing experience.  I have yet to hear a single negative comment from anyone about this.  Not even a dismissive “it’s just not for me”.  If you are late to this party, don’t feel bad, just fix that so I don’t feel bad talking about it.  Orange Is the New Black was based on a book by the same name by Piper Kerman, which chronicles her own experiences in prison.  I’m not sure how true to life the series is, but the fact that it has any basis in reality is both astonishing and horrifying.  As one would imagine, things in prison are not all fun and games.

orange-is-the-new-black1Orange Is the New Black revolves around Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) a woman sent to Litchfield federal prison to serve 15 months for transporting drug money for her former girlfriend Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), leaving behind her fiancé Larry Bloom (Jason Biggs).  Piper is quick to discover one should not cross the inmate cook Galina “Red” Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew), and that she must share her time with Alex Vause.  She quickly befriends (such as you can in prison) fellow inmates Lorna Morello (Yael Stone), Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne), and is entangled in an obsessive relationship with Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (Uzo Adub) who quickly dubs Piper her new wife.  Dealing with the new relationship dynamics, and the unwritten prison rules she knows nothing about she makes and loses friends, and makes enemies.

Doing her time Piper is also attempting to manage her outside relationships and a start-up homeopathic business from inside the prison, with mixed to bad results.  Throughout the series, the back-story for each character is gradually introduced through flashbacks.  This adds incredible depth to the ensemble cast, many of whom it’s easy to become attached.

largeThe ensemble cast in this series is phenomenal.  There are a multitude of faces and names most of us easily recognize, and many we have never seen before.  With a regular cast of about 30 it’s difficult to give each individual due credit in a spoiler free review of an entire season, (link contains spoilers, be warned) not to mention the writing and directing talent.  Writers include Liz Friedman and Jenji Kohan, Marco Ramirez, Sian Heder, Gary Lennon, Nick Jones, Lauren Morelli, and Sara Hess.  Directors are Michael Trim (5 episodes), Andrew McCarthy (3 episodes), Uta Briesewitz, Jodie Foster, Matthew Penn, Phil Abraham, and Constantine Makris.

The multiple facets of this show are incredibly crafted and performed.  The comic moments are genuinely funny, the tragic moments are enraging and heart breaking and the overriding ominous tones are ever present and can leave you feeling uneasy in your own home.  The comedy is incredibly dark at times which is counterbalanced with a multitude of lighthearted running gags, which if you catch all of them go a long way to breaking the tension just enough to allow that ever present ominous threat of your favorite characters coming to harm.

The only significant complaint I have is with the entire season released at one time.  Netflix should know better.  They know we the views can’t control ourselves and we will binge and burn through an entire season in one weekend.  I managed to make it last a week, but that is nothing compared to a 13-week run.  Now, we have a year to wait for season 2, and it’s going to be a long wait.

Orange Is the New Black: Season 1 gets a solid 5 out of 5 from me.

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