TV Review: ‘Orange Is the New Black,’ Season Two

Orange is the New Black Season

What felt fresh about “Orange Is the New Black” has quickly gone a bit stale, at least if the first half-dozen episodes from season two are any indication. Netflix’s women-in-prison dramedy emerged as a surprise success and burnished the service’s reputation on the heels of “House of Cards,” but both have discovered that creating sparks and keeping them smoldering are formidably disparate tasks. While loyal fans (and due to Netflix’s strategy, there’s no way of knowing exactly how many there are) will surely hail its return, “Orange’s” new stay offers a less-compelling incentive to lock oneself away to binge it.

Based on Piper Kernan’s memoir, the first season experienced the dehumanizing aspects of prison through the eyes of its shell-shocked protagonist Piper (Taylor Schilling), who found herself separated from her fiancé (Jason Biggs) and surrounded by a cuckoo’s-nest assortment of characters. Series creator Jenji Kohan then opened up and fleshed out the seemingly claustrophobic concept by delving into inmates’ histories, revealing unexpected layers that went well beyond the caricatures.

Season two opens with an awkward detour – dealing with the fallout from Piper’s past aggression, while she’s whisked away from the facility to sort out her future (with Laura Prepon in a guest role). After that, the second hour goes back to Litchfield prison, reintroducing the rest of the cast, while Schilling temporarily remains absent.

By episode three, the show returns to a more familiar rhythm, but the plots – with a few noteworthy exceptions – don’t pop quite so readily, and some flashbacks feel clunkier this time around. Not surprisingly, the best of those involves Yael Stone, who remains sensational as the oddly accented Morello.

On balance, the show hasn’t benefited from cast comings and goings, though a new arrival (Kimiko Glenn) does pick up some of the wide-eyed wonder Piper – now older, wiser and harder – provided in season one.

There are still plenty of things to like about the series, which at its best explores female relationships and class disparities through a prism one rarely sees on mainstream TV. The lack of privacy and intrusive conditions also invite an organic level of explicitness and blue humor, which isn’t always true of boundary-pushing series.

That said, the new season’s highlights feel more scattershot, and the plot offers less urgency. All of which would be OK, provided “Orange” doesn’t fall victim to the quirks and excesses that characterized the later seasons of Kohan’s “Weeds,” which began with a similar ordinary-woman-turned-outlaw premise.

In a very pay-cable-like “The numbers don’t matter if we like it” maneuver, Netflix has already renewed “Orange” for a third season, a vote of confidence that means Piper had better get accustomed to her unflattering attire. The streaming service is no doubt hoping for awards attention to augment “House of Cards’ ” breakthroughs (both programs won the prestigious Peabody), although further kudos are by no means a given due to the show’s hybrid nature. (The early second-season review date, incidentally, was set by Netflix.)

Then again, worrying about “Orange” going for the gold is a trifle premature, since the series faces a more immediate challenge – namely, staying as creatively hip and fashionable as its title suggests.

TV Review: 'Orange Is the New Black,' Season Two

(Netflix; June 6)

Production

Filmed in New York by Tilted Prods. in association with Lionsgate.

Crew

Executive producer, Jenji Kohan; co-executive producers, Mark A. Burley, Stephen Falk, Sara Hess, Lisa I. Vinnecour; producers, Neri Kyle Tannenbaum, Tara Herrmann; director, Jodie Foster; writers, Herrmann, Kohan; camera, Yaron Orbach; production designer, Michael Shaw; editor, William Turro. 60 MIN.

Cast

Taylor Schilling, Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Michael J. Harney, Natasha Lyonne, Taryn Manning, Kate Mulgrew, Yael Stone, Kimiko Glenn, Jason Biggs

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  1. David says:

    Wait a minute people, this is hardly a terrible review-it’s pretty on point actually. The series did lose some pop from last season, it’s not as fresh and ut definitely, MOST DEFINITELY, is veering towards Weedd territory. The relationships between the characters are becoming too damn cute and the situations too quirky. It’s straining believability already, just like Weeds season 2. I actually was shocked in ep 11 because I thought there was another let’s-burn-down-Agrestic happening. At least Kohan learned one thing since Weeds.

  2. IJS says:

    Nope. Season 2 was way better than season 1. Piper’s character evolved from being a WASPy, wimpy, complainy irritant to developing some backbone. In the first season, I just wanted her to shut the f*** up and sit the f*** down. I actually listened to her character this season.

    Separately, and for me, most importantly, the expansion of the Black and Latina characters made the season for me. Vee, Taystee, Suzanne and even Black Cindy were so much more interesting to me. As I watched Suzanne’s story, I knew not many people would pick up or understand the nuanced story of a mentally unstable girl/woman out of place her entire life with no one with a clue as to who she was. Not even her parents. I thought Jenji Kohan and team were very courageous to question her placement in a white home. Notice how she carried the black nurse’s action from childhood to adulthood and her deep attraction to Vee, (brilliantly written and wonderfully portrayed by Lorraine Toussaint) who was the mother she never had. Sorry… guess you have to be accustomed to reading beneath the surface to understand the second season.

  3. Janice says:

    I agree completely. The second season of “Orange is the New Black” was a complete disappointment!
    I loved the first season. But season 2 sucks! WTF? What happened?
    They lost me as a viewer.

  4. Vaughnjareya says:

    Maybe Jenji should stick to writing mini-series. She seems to be pretty good at writing first seasons. If Jenji could come.up with a satisfying ending to each mini-series she writes, she’d be a success. Because I’m telling you, with Season Two, two-and-a-half episodes in, and I’ve completely lost interest.

  5. Brian says:

    I’ve finished the 2nd season and it wasn’t nearly as good as season 1. I’m hoping this isn’t another Weeds situation where the first season was fantastic and by the 3rd season the series should have been cancelled because the writing and story line had fallen off so much.

  6. Amy Lynn says:

    Season 2 is horrible. I agree with the review but would have been much more negative. Last season the sexual tension between the inmates was not as raunchy as this season. Too much in your face and not enough innuendo. Moreover…the end of each episode is without enough of a cliffhanger to even think of binging this Season.

  7. I thought season two was superior in all ways to season 1. To me, season one was truly limited by Taylor Schilling’s marginal abilities and her naif character. I loved the expansion of the focus to everyone, the fleshing out of backstories and the introduction of Lorraine Toussaint’s character who brought a real, genuine menace to what had been essentially summer camp with less outdoor time and crappier food. I thought the storylines involving the older ladies brought real, genuine pathos and poignancy to a show that had basically become a little cynical. As far as the first episode being awkward, I don’t find it to be awkward so much as unsettling, which was the idea and the premise of the whole episode. What’s happening? Where is Piper headed? Why don’t we know what’s going on? This reflects Piper’s experience and heightened the viewing experience for me.

    I don’t know, maybe people just don’t want to be satisfied. For me, I think this season was a lot less shiny and setup/punchline-y and a lot more sober and sad. I loved it.

  8. W says:

    I agree with you: episode one is awkward; it felt as if the story was heading in a whole different direction (Lori Petty…hey!). But if you found the balance of the season lacking, clearly, you enjoyed S1 because it was all Taylor Schilling & Laura Prepon, all the time. This is the story of a woman’s prison, not Piper’s prison, and what a great AND damn, talent-deep ensemble of characters and performances to which we are treated. Piper is merely a plot device, people. Have you not noticed that Natasha Lyonne’s character, Nicky, is the glue?

    Maybe I’m pulling the Race Card with my perspective, but I’m wondering if there’s a more empathetic element that factors into my enjoyment of this season than your own. As a black woman, I didn’t come into S2 with a need to focus on the continuing saga of the Shiny White Girl in Prison.Quite frankly, that’s about about as much long-term flavor as…a shiny white girl in prison.

    How refreshing it was to see the nuances of Black, Latino, and senior (brilliant move, BTW) cultures given SOLID storylines and air time. Re: the addition of Brook Soso (who I NEED to see have a conversation with Mindy Kaling RIGHT NOW…it would be epic): meh. The best Soso moment is when we see the Sister Ingalls flashback and learn that convent life is not unlike prison life, and Soso to Litchfield as was is Sister Jen to the convent, LOL. I did miss the this-season’s diluted crazy from Pennsatucky and Crazy Eyes, but not for too long, because Red (Kate Mulgrew), Mendoza (Selenis Leyva) & Vee (Lorraine Toussant…who – IMHO – IS Nina Simone). And what great performances from Samira Wiley (Poussey) and Taystee (Danielle Brooks).

    The portrayal of men “not in charge” – from guards to counselors to partners – is perhaps the weakest element of this season. The fellas are the most cartoonish, but alas, the memoirs are based upon a woman’s POV. It was so great to see Caputo have a minute of victory. Poor Bennett continues to meekly manage life between a rock and a hard place. Luschek is still a great plot device. THANK GOD they didn’t overdo Mendez this season (love his new hair though *snicker*. Jason Biggs was adorable in the character that he plays best (he’s the US version of an always awkward, bumbling, submissive Hugh Grant). Great screen time and execution goes to Michael Harney’s Mr. Healey, but his devolution/evolution from ep to ep was a tad inconsistent.

    But let’s remember, in this world: Girls Rule. Major props for the Fall of Figueroa, who is weakest when she’s being a lady (literally), but is brilliant at playing the Old Boys Club game better (and more viciously) than the boys do.

    Overall, this season is a fun, sometimes unpredictable, entertaining ride. Morello’s origin story, for example, was crazy-train surprising. While I would have LOVED to have gone deeper into several backstories (I guess that’s what set up for an S3, right?), I walk away from my binge watch ALMOST very well-fed. What I could have had more of? MORE Sophia! By far, NOT ENOUGH LAVERNE COX!

    If you’re keeping the Netflix score, House of Cards: Most Satisfying (My God, that show is brilliant); Derek: Most Heartwarming/breaking; OITNB: Most Fun (not great, but fun).

    They may need to resurrect an ACE Awards-type program, otherwise the Emmy’s are going to look like an extended Netflix ad, with a side of The Good Wife, Mad Men, and Fargo. (Sorry Shonda, love ya girl….)

  9. Pablo says:

    100% agree with this review… Loved the first season and I am ready to walk away after watching two episodes. Every other review is praising what this reviewer rightly sees as sloppy writing and awkward, stilted acting. What happened to our favorite show?

  10. Can i have his job please so I can give an honest review… :)

  11. Sam says:

    This reviewer is desperate. He tried to set himself apart from the other reviews. He is dishonest and probably should be fired for his lack of credibility. Everyone can see it’s sunny outside but I’m going to say it’s raining because I’m a desperate old tool, that needs to be relevant so I’m not fired. Sir have dignity and quit.

    • John IG says:

      To be honest, I liked the season. It focused on something different from the first. Instead of it being about Piper’s superficialities and humanity being stripped away and replaced with the required hardness, its now about families and manipulation.

      I like that, on the other hand, all the reviewers points are on target.
      – not all the flashbacks feel as poignant.
      – the characters can feel cartoony
      – the plot doesn’t feel as urgent (because the villain is obvious)

      If you only have the first 6 episodes, you might not understand the value of the season, and only see its flaws.

    • I totally agree with you….

      • Sam says:

        Wonder if the other people agreeing with the author actually exist. The reviewer is desperate enough to pose as people agreeing with him so he looks legitimate.

      • Pablo says:

        Watch it… This guys is the only one telling it like it is. I loved this show but it has lost a step.

  12. sara says:

    This is the FIRST thing I’ve read that has said something negative about the first 6 episodes. I’ve read about 40 reviews and 39 said this second season is even better than the first. I find that peculiar and odd.

  13. John Dorian says:

    Eh. If a review was trolling for views it would either A) praise the show to high heavens and call it one of the best of all-time, or
    B) say the show has gone to crap.

  14. terrible review, just asking for views.

    • Pablo says:

      Having watched it tonight, I 100% agree. They have destroyed the show.

      • Louise says:

        I loved Season 1. Couldn’t wait for Season 2. I had to quit watching after episode 5, because the sex was absolute pornography. Just way too graphic for me. Sorry to the viewers who like to watch these two women having explicit sex. I’m done with the show.

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