Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Continuing a Peel: Season 2 of 'Orange is the New Black' Retains--More Than Enhances--Its Colorful Insights -- TV Review

Television Review

Orange is the New Black
Season 2
13 episodes, now available

Orange is the New Black is the only television show I've successfully binge-watched for two seasons.

Of course, given that it appears on Netflix with 13 episodes dropping at once, "television" and "season" no longer quite mean what they once did, and the traditional broadcast cadence has been further rendered anachronistic.

In itself, noting the unique distribution model--shared with other Netflix original series and soon to be replicated by Amazon and others--does nothing to undermine the quality and appeal of Orange is the New Black

Jenji Kohan's creation, inspired by Piper Kerman's real-life recollections in a book of the same name (she serves as a consultant to the show) is compelling, revelatory and insightful, and--given that I watched the 13th episodes of Season 2 in roughly a week, similar to Season 1--it remains rather addictive. 

Yet I can't help wonder if I like Orange a good bit more as a lump sum ingestion than I would if I watched it weekly, the way TV used to be consumed before DVD sets, In-Demand or DVRs. (VCRs essentially served the same function as DVRs, but I don't think stockpiling episodes on them was nearly as common.)

Certainly, standard parameters for a "television show" have changed many times in many ways, with cable channels long having enabled producers and programs to address more risque subject matter with courser language than allowed on broadcast TV, even today.

So while in focusing on life within a women's prison, Orange includes rather graphic sex scenes and rather profusely spews euphemisms for genitalia that undoubtedly add to its incarcerational authenticity, I don't think it goes beyond what is permissible on HBO or Showtime, which have continued to air shows with a weekly cadence (for new episodes of the current season). 

With the caveat that I have not watched, with regularity as originally aired (and no more than a handful of episodes subsequently) such acclaimed series as Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, any other "hot cable show"--excepting the first season of Homeland, in bulk, and half of the second more tepidly--or, going back further, The Wire or even The Sopranos, I somewhat doubt that if Orange is the New Black ran in old-school 23-episode seasons, it would hold my interest as it has in binge mode with just 13 installments. 

This is hard to explain with specificity as I do not want to reveal anything that happens in Season 2, for I was happy not to know. 

All I will share is that along with a somewhat humorous new character who is both under-utilized and overexposed, there is another more substantive new character who brings most of the tension to the season's narrative arc. 

Obviously, I kept watching, but I wasn't completely sold on, or perhaps engrossed by, the associated storyline. 

Certainly there continues to be intrigue around Taylor Schilling's Piper, ostensibly the show's main character, but her thread feels secondary in several episodes and perhaps even in sum. 

What the show continues to do an exemplary job of is letting viewers get to know each of the primary inmates (i.e. recurring characters). 

The backstory vignettes that explore a character's life before prison and what landed them there are still my favorite aspect of Orange, more than the chronicles of Piper, the division of inmates along racial lines, the conflicts among these groups, the machinations of the prison guards or staff members, the considerable humor or the dirty stuff. 

Several characters who didn't get the backstory treatment in Season 1 do so in 2, and though I wished a couple of the pre-prison scenes extended a bit further (and deeper), they continued to make the show even more satisfying in an eloquently expository sense--driving home the folly of assumption where individuals are concerned--than in terms of episode-to-episode suspense. 

Apologies for expressing this less than cogently, but it dawns on me that with Orange is the New Black, every episode is excellent but--perhaps even more so this season--only the last few minutes of each really made me eager to watch the next one. 

So while Kohan and her team of writers are to be highly commended for their ability to slyly craft serialized cliffhangers into each episode, the seeming truth that--per my foremost affinity--each installment stands somewhat alone (though more effectively once familiar with all the main characters) spurs my sense that I wouldn't automatically tune into every episode if watching on a weekly basis was the only option. 

But as it stands, my guess is that most viewers of Orange is the New Black watch each full season (if not, for latecomers, both) in rather rapid-fire succession. 

Certainly I have, and I enjoyed it. 

More than many shows, it has intelligently taken me into a world I never knew and given me insights I didn't readily consider. I don't know if Season 2 does so substantially beyond what Season 1 already had, but I definitely will tune into Season 3, presumably in another year.

But it would be a bit falsely exuberant to say, "I can't wait!"

Perhaps it's my own fault for devouring the new set of episodes so quickly, but I rather think I can handle sitting through Orange Is the New Black's second intermission--however long it may be--without any withdrawal symptoms.

I may be locked in, but feel a bit more compelled than excitedly eager--as after Season 1--to continue my sentence. 

1 comment:

Judy said...

Seth: I've just finished the last episode of Season 2, having watched them two or three at a time. As much as I enjoy Orange, like you, I doubt I'd tune in every week if it was presented one episode at a time. I think this is how ALL series should be - dropped as a season package to watch as the viewer chooses. Being in the mood for some Orange and then being able to watch as many as I wanted made it better - I was more eager to see what came next and perfectly content to wait for Season 3.