Thursday, July 18, 2013
TV SHOW REVIEW: ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
Piper Chapman (Schilling), a woman from Connecticut, living in New York City who is sent to the women's Litchfield, NY federal prison for possessing a suitcase full of drug money for Alex Vause (Prepon), an international drug smuggler and Chapman's one-time lover. Sentenced to serve a fifteen-month sentence, Chapman must survive the hardships of prison life, and she may have to be a different person to do so.
Cast: Taylor Schilling, Jason Biggs, Michael Harney, Natasha Lyonne, Laura Prepon, Kate Mulgrew, Pablo Schreiber
Created by Jenji Kohan
Based on the book Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman
Jenji Kohan’s Weeds is the type of show that really divided a lot of people after certain massive changes utterly changed the landscape of that show. Personally, I’ve always been impressed by how bold Kohan was but I digress. I loved Weeds more often than not and it made me a big fan of Mary Louise Parker in the process. Kohan’s new series has some of the hallmarks of what people liked about the first few seasons of Weeds, sharp writing and a deft mix of comedy and drama. Orange is the New Black does occasionally head into melodramatic territory but the sharp writing and impressive ensemble keeps you interested throughout. The story unfolds with a Lost style series of flashbacks after the main plot is presented, each episode focuses on the backstory of one inmates, so we are introduced to the characters before we know their story. As a result, Kohan has us playing into a lot of stereotypes Piper experiences. I’d never call this a hard hitting Oz style prison drama but it does pack an emotional punch quite consistently while providing plenty of laughs along the way. Taylor Schilling, who looks like a pathetic version of Diane Kruger in this unglamorous role, does a solid job in the lead role. She’s believable as a yuppie trying to navigate prison but she isn’t tasked with carrying the entire series. Her character is complex and somewhat unlikable especially as the series progress. Luckily the supporting characters are just as interesting, occasionally more sympathetic, than the lead. The supporting actors and actresses make up one of the most eclectic cast assembled in recent memory. They run the gamut of Star Trek, That 70’s Show, American Pie franchise alums, to character actors who have populated the background of various movies or shows. Each one delivers a strong sense of authenticity to their characters. Kate Mulgrew turn is rather impressive since it’s so effective while she’s sporting a bad Russian accent. Jason Biggs does a solid job as Piper’s fiancé but his American Pie castmate, Natasha Lyonne, really shines throughout. Lyonne, who’d had her battles with addition, nails her portrayal of a former addict. She has a certain warmth and acidity to her performance while never overdoing it. Laura Prepon is nearly as impressive as Pipers ex-lover especially once her backstory is fleshed out. Laverne Cox provides a fascinating performance as a transgender inmate. Pablo Schreiber provides the most obvious antagonist throughout and he makes you hate his character more and more with each passing episode. The world they all create is incredibly rich with multiple characters bringing an engaging storyline to the series. This first season covers a lot of ground in the main and supporting characters emotional arches but leaves plenty to explore in season 2 which I’ll be looking forward to.