‘Orange is the New Black’: Jenji Kohan, Cast Talks Season 4, Diversity, Binge-Watching

Orange Is the New Black Season
Courtesy of Netflix

When “Orange is the New Blackreturns for its fourth season on June 17, issues like race, politics and prison overcrowding will be front-and-center.

Speaking to reporters Sunday at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena, Calif., series creator Jenji Kohan revealed few details about the upcoming season, joking that she needed to get advice from her friend “Mad Men” creator Matt Weiner on how to talk about the show without giving away spoilers.

“The theme thing was hard this year,” she said. “We start with political agendas, the corporatization of the prison, the stratification of people into their little mosaic groups. We want it to be a surprise, but [you can expect] all the fun stuff like race and hate and some things from current events that we wanted to filter through our lens.”

Blair Brown, who’s joining the cast this season as a series regular (as Judy King), said, “Because it ends with the overcrowding, you do push all the different groups together. We see the animosity that’s expected or unexpected. That’s ahead of the curve of things that are happening now.”

Brown said she was happy to join the show after time on series like “Fringe” and “Limitless,” calling them “boy shows.” She said, “They don’t have anything against women, they just don’t know how to write women.”

The other cast members echoed Brown’s excitement about the new season of “Orange,” which is produced by Lionsgate Television. “I feel like we’ve got something really, really different to what we’ve put out before with this coming series.” said Samira Wiley (Poussey). Added Dascha Polanco (Dayanara Diaz), “Season four will push the envelope to the next level.”

Asked which backstories we’ll get to see this season, Kohan said, “There will be some people you’ve already seen, some backstories that you’ll get more of, and then new people,” though she declined to name specific characters.

Kohan resisted the suggestion that Piper (Taylor Schilling) was becoming less likable as the series progressed. “I think Piper’s definitely on a journey,” said Kohan. “We work through the vicissitudes of likability.”

She also said that it was always intended that Piper’s character would take a backseat to the rest of the inmates. “This was always intended as an ensemble show,” she said. “Piper was our entrée to our world. She’s always a presence and we’re invested in her story, but as it grows, we’re invested in everyone’s story.”

Laverne Cox (Sophia) praised Kohan for writing a series with a diverse cast and storytelling. “To have a show that prioritizes the stories of women of color, older women, queer women… that’s one of the best things [about it],” she said. “To give each story such care and humanity is unprecedented on TV and that can only happen on Netflix.”

Kohan also talked about whether she prefers binge-watching vs. weekly rollout. “There are pros and cons to both, this is how we deliver, this is how we made our name, this is how people fell in love with us,” she said. “To sit and dwell on whether I prefer a slower delivery is kind of a waste of time. I can’t complain.”

See More: Netflix Sets Premiere Dates for ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Season 4, ‘Kimmy Schmidt’ Season 2, Baz Luhrmann Drama & More

Earlier in the day, Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos announced that season four of the hit series will premiere on June 17. Though he declined to give exact figures, he reassured reporters that “Orange” is the streaming platform’s most-watched show.


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  1. Karen says:

    Well said Susan! I thoroughly enjoyed s1 as I was taken into the prison world and felt I was learning alongside Piper. I enjoyed s2 as it delved into how easily people can change who they are and what they believe for greed and to belong. There were other story lines but they all seemed to find a way to filter through Piper. Unfortunately S3 was a mess. I could not decide if it was the writers getting too excited by the show’s success and taking everything to an unnecessary next level (that sex scene in library added little while the Stella storyline was cringe worthy!)… or they just go confused and lost direction. Piper’s arc did not make sense. If felt like 1-2 important scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. The only arc which was properly developed was Pennsatucky and as such it was the only story to make sense. I couldn’t even follow some of the back stories as they appeared to be used as fillers and were out of context. I cannot believe Jenji remains so adamant not to utilise the Piper character more often. It doesn’t have to be as per s1 – as that wouldn’t make much sense either – but to cut back as much as she did was flawed.

  2. Sam Albert says:

    Couldn’t agree more with Susan Allen. Great critique and on point. The issue is not so much Piper’s likeability – it’s valid that this is challenged throughout the seasons – but it’s her presence and link to the others’ storylines that needs to be reviewed. The beauty of season 1 was being exposed to a diverse and interesting group of people originally through the eyes of Piper but growing to know them individually as they were ‘humanised’. This happened to coincide with Piper’s likely own growth and respect etc for her fellow inmates. Once this has been established, as a member of the audience your perception of life in prison and everything the show portrays is from that starting viewpoint with Piper as protagonist. When this is removed (as season 3 most certainly did) there is no structure to the storylines and no apparent reason for many of them (developing characters yes, but to what end?). While of course the backstories and current-day stories that were told in season 3 were valid, they should have been told because of a link to Piper (however trivial). Finally, there is a wealth of under developed background and character traits that could be explored to continue to develop Piper’s character and it is a disservice to the viewers and Taylor Schilling to either ignore them or wash over them briefly without rational and/or natural endings. I for one watch the show for Piper’s story.

  3. Susan Allen says:

    An ensemble is fine IF you can successfully write one. Sorry Jenji, but when you dumped Piper as the protagonist and made her a minor character two things happened. You and your writers ended up totally wasting the talent of Taylor Schilling who single handedly made Season 1 as great as it was. Two, since back-seating Piper, the show has lost direction and seems like a disjointed group of unconnected stories that don’t seem to add to the overall story line. Even an ensemble NEEDS a protagonist. Your writers need to weave Piper thru all the stories so she can act as a guide and make the entire story be cohesive.

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