You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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

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

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

More Digital

  • Three Minute Film Lecture

    Hong Kong Protest Movement Gets Its Own Streaming Platform

    The team behind the award-winning controversial Hong Kong dystopian drama “Ten Years” has launched a new streaming platform focusing on short films about the ongoing protests that have gripped the city since June. Backed by Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily and Next Magazine, Next Film is headed by Jevons Au, one of the co-directors [...]

  • Memories of the Alhambra

    South Korean Producer Studio Dragon Sets Partnership With Netflix

    Global streaming giant Netflix has struck a multi-year deal with Studio Dragon, a three-year old production company that has become one of the hottest content houses in Korea. The deal is described as a three-year strategic partnership, highlighted by a multi-year content production and distribution agreement, that begins from 2020. Studio Dragon’s parent company, CJ [...]

  • Google headquartersGoogle headquarters, Dublin, Ireland -

    Google Won't Allow Political Campaigns to Target Voters by Affiliation Anymore

    Google is tweaking its policy for political ads, which includes doing away with microtargeting by political affiliation or voting records. The search giant also announced Wednesday that it would clarify its advertising policy to make sure that political advertisers can’t make grossly misleading statements. “We’re limiting election ads audience targeting to the following general categories: [...]

  • Sonos Q4 Results: Revenue, Losses Grow,

    Sonos Acquires Voice Assistant Startup Snips for $37.5 Million

    Smart speaker maker Sonos is getting ready to take a more active role in voice control: Sonos announced the acquisition of Paris- and Tokyo-based voice assistant startup Snips Wednesday. Snips had been developing a platform to launch dedicated voice assistants for smart speakers and other devices. Sonos spent $37.5 million in cash on the startup, [...]

  • Ramin Arani - Vice Media

    Vice Hires Fidelity Veteran Ramin Arani as CFO (EXCLUSIVE)

    Vice Media Group appointed Ramin Arani, a 26-year veteran of Fidelity Investments and an early adviser to Vice, as its new chief financial officer. Arani, reporting to CEO Nancy Dubuc, will lead all financial and accounting functions for Vice Media Group. Following Vice Media Group’s recent acquisition of Refinery29, Arani will also work to unify [...]

  • Jim Cornette

    Jim Cornette Resigns From National Wrestling Alliance After 'Offensive' On-Air Statement

    Professional wrestling mainstay Jim Cornette has resigned his position with the National Wrestling Alliance. “Effective immediately: Jim Cornette has resigned from the National Wrestling Alliance,” the company said in a statement released Wednesday. “As an announcer on the November 19th edition of ‘NWA Power,’ Jim made remarks during a singles match between Nick Aldis and [...]

  • Sarah Silverman

    As TV Consumption Shifts, Streamers Struggle With How to Apply Programming Standards

    When she launched her ultimately short-lived Hulu talk show  “I Love You, America” in 2017, Sarah Silverman wanted to make a point. This wasn’t a traditional broadcast or cable talk show with content restrictions or language limits — and so she experimented with that freedom on her very first episode. “Because we can — we’re [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content