Convicted of a decade old crime of transporting drug money to an ex-girlfriend, normally law-abiding Piper Chapman is sentenced to a year and a half behind bars to face the reality of how li... Read allConvicted of a decade old crime of transporting drug money to an ex-girlfriend, normally law-abiding Piper Chapman is sentenced to a year and a half behind bars to face the reality of how life-changing prison can really be.Convicted of a decade old crime of transporting drug money to an ex-girlfriend, normally law-abiding Piper Chapman is sentenced to a year and a half behind bars to face the reality of how life-changing prison can really be.
The story of your average early-30s female yuppie who gets sent to prison for 15 months for a crime she committed 10 years earlier. Season 1 Episode 1 shows her checking into the prison, and the rest is what goes on inside, plus the effects of her incarceration on her friends and family.
Initially I thought it was going to a female version of Oz, but it is far better than that. Multi-dimensional: funny, sensitive and sometimes dark. There is heaps of depth to the characters. Clever use of pre-prison flashbacks to show what motivates characters in certain situations, and how they got to be in jail. Very sensitively done, it often shows how their personalities were shaped.
This also serves to show that you can't simply judge people by their current actions - everyone has heaps of baggage.
Superb performances from a spot-on cast.
So different to what I expected, and very pleasantly so.
Season 4 continues the good work and was the usual mix of powerful drama and biting comedy. Maybe a bit darker and deeper than previous seasons due to covering issues of insanity, depression, guard brutality and prisoners' lives once they get out of prison. Some characters who didn't get much focus in previous seasons get more of the limelight, while others get less. One of the casualties is Pennsatucky / Doggett (Taryn Manning), which is a shame as she is one of my favourites - multi-layered and funny. On the plus side, Lolly (Lori Petty) gets much more screen time and she is great: funny and sad, all at the same time.
The last two episodes of Season 4 are incredibly powerful and moving.
Season 5 picks up where S4 left off and shows that the writers had certainly not run out of ideas. At a point when most series start to feel jaded, Orange is the New Black was as strong and fresh as ever.
However, Season 5 does mark a turning point, as the show moves from being predominantly character-based to more plot-based. This is a negative thing, as it was the characters and their stories that make the show so engaging.
Season 6 is where the novelty starts to wear off and the writing starts to show signs of weakness. The setting and situation were new: the Max side of the prison, complete with the more limited freedom it presents, plus grittier, more dangerous characters. This made for some interesting possibilities and the writers used these fairly well.
However, the character engagement, usually OITNB's strongest feature, is now largely missing. Tasha Jefferson is the only character whose story is worth following, and this gets drawn out to the nth degree. Piper Chapman, being irritating (though I think this was more due to Taylor Schilling's performance than anything else), was never worth supporting and this season is no exception. She does, however, provide the most emotional moment of the season.
The lack of engagement in the season is largely due to some previously-likeable/interesting characters being made into irritating characters. The over-the-topness of Red and Lorna's dialogue and general drama constantly made me tune out whenever they appeared.
There are a host of new characters but none are worth supporting. Their introduction also dilutes the impact of the characters and stories you do care about.
Overall Season 6 was watchable but it did feel like a chore at times.
The downward trajectory continues in the final season, Season 7. By now it is all plot-based and the engagement levels are close to zero. The plots themselves feel like retreads of old ones: there's very little new under the sun. The transformation of previously-likeable characters into irritating characters continues. Lorna is particularly annoying.
There was quite a bit of potential though: several of the ex-inmates are now on the outside, so you get to see how the US deals with ex-cons. This was reasonably interesting, as you see how badly ex-cons are treated by the system and how the odds are stacked in favour of them going back to jail. Unfortunately, the central character in this is Piper, and she's irritating, as always.
The other area that had potential was the sub-plot involving deportees and ICE, as this shows how the US treats illegal immigrants (short answer: not very well). Unfortunately, the writers ruin this by massively overegging the pudding: extreme cases, out-of-the-blue soapbox speeches and political finger-pointing. Rather than address the issues with sensitivity and subtlety, they're rammed down your throat. So preachy.
Season 7 was quite an ordeal to get through. I only put myself through it to see the series through to the end. Even then the writers don't make it easy: 13 episodes with a 1.5-hour final episode! In total that's about 14 hours of my life wasted.
Season ratings: Seasons 1-4: 10/10 Season 5: 9/10 Season 6: 5/10 Season 7: 3/10
- Aug 5, 2019