The Video Glutton Binge Guide To “ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK” - Season 2September 12, 2014
On Demand Weekly provides new reviews of hot movies and shows on demand from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today’s review: “Orange Is The New Black," Season 2. Enjoy a binge whule waiting for the Fall TV Season begins.
It’s been a loooooooooong, Litchfield-less year, but the ladies are BACK, and I was more than eager to dive right in!
The first episode plunged right back into Piper’s point of view as it shows her journey from Litchfield’s SHU to Chicago to testify against the drug dealer she briefly carried for. It was a terrific call back to the real-person Piper’s memoir on which the show is based, and gave a realistic glimpse of the humiliations inflicted on prisoners. Piper is asked if she needs to use the bathroom before they take her out of SHU, but they don’t tell her where she will be going, or that it will be a long, long bathroom-less trip. She and the other inmates on this trip, including a cameo from Lori Petty, are not told where they are going or why, they are just bussed to an airport and bundled onto a plane.
Piper has no idea what is happening to her until she arrives in Chicago and sees Alex. Last year’s mythical chicken chase gets one-upped in comedy and grossness when Piper accidentally kills her Chicago cellmates’ cigarette-running cockroach and has to find and train a replacement!
It’s a great episode, but I missed all the other Litchfield women. On the other hand, when Piper gets back to Litchfield, she’s got a totally different attitude than last year’s, and it is the perfect re-introduction to our favorite community.
With the exception of Miss Claudette (sniff), all of our favorites are back, even Pennsatucky, whom Piper did NOT kill. Of these, we get more back story on Taystee, Poussey, Crazy Eyes, Lorna, Gloria, “Sister” Jane, and several of the less out front characters who are given more focus this season. Pennsatucky’s obedient sidekick Leanne gets to take stage as she becomes the new leader of the meth-heads, and we even see a slightly more human side of Miss Figueroa, although I could have done without that.
My favorite of the smaller parts stepping forward is the glorious performance of Barbara Rosenblat as Miss Rosa. It’s extraordinary how a character that basically just lay in bed looking crabby last season is allowed to flower into a rich, vibrant character. Her character’s arc is the most satisfying of all.
And then, there is the introduction of the new Big Bad: Vee. Her story intertwines with both Taystee and Red as we discover that Vee helped mold them into who they are today (and not the best parts of them). Lorraine Toussaint raises the bar in everything she does, and even here, where the bar started pretty darn high, she manages to bump it up. Wielding her inherent warmth, sexiness and intelligence as weapons, Vee Parker is an expert at divide and conquer. She charms Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” into becoming her wingman as she guilts Taystee into bringing in the rest of the “family.”
Since a feeling of family is the deepest desire of almost all these outcast women, Vee is able to worm her way into becoming the instant Mother/leader of her group. If that means a greater racial divide in the prison, well, that just works to her advantage. Poor Red (and who would have thought anyone would ever use that expression, “poor Red?”) who lost her position of Queen of the kitchen along with her role as Mother/leader of her family has to desperately scramble to hold onto every little bit of progress she makes.
The other new cast member is Brook Soso (Kimiko Glenn), an overly peppy activist who can’t stop talking, or insisting that every glass is half full, much to the consternation of absolutely everyone else. More humor is provided by the sex-off between Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) and Nicky (Natasha Lyonne), refereed by the hilariously deadpan Chang (Lori Tan Chin), and transsexual Sophia explaining female anatomy to a bunch of naturally-born females. The humor is much needed as the tension ratchets up gradually throughout the season, which adds to the addictive, must watch the next episode, bingeworthiness of this show.
Lots of shows build tension well, and there are other shows that do the drama/comedy mix well. So what is it about this show that makes it so binge-able? It made Netflix’s new technique of dropping all episodes at once an unqualified success. Of Netflix’s original programming, including the critically-acclaimed “House Of Cards”, “Orange Is The New Black” is by far the most popular. I think it can be summed up by Healy, “I hate talking to a woman about women’s problems.” That is the attitude of 99.9% of television (and film). Men who are uncomfortable talking to and/or about women are the ones making television (and film).
Enter the inestimable Jenji Kohan. She makes talking to and/or about and/or for women as easy as, well, women talking. The incredible, unforced diversity of color, age, and sexuality is unlike anything else on TV. The natural rapport of the cast in addition to their amazing talent takes the really well-written stories and dialogue into a world that could be foreign, but feels strangely comfortable.
So put on a pair of fuzzy, bright orange pajamas, and settle in for a good, satisfying binge. It will be a long year after….
Jean Tait is a contributing writer to On Demand Weekly. Currently the Director of Programming for the Connecticut Film Festival, Jean has programmed for the Jacksonville Film Festival and Sundance Channel.
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