Jane Casey has been locked away with a screener of the first six episodes of season two of Orange is the New Black. So are the further adventures of Piper, Alex, Crazy Eyes and all, living up to the hype?
No spoilers, we promise!
It’s been a year since the Netflix original series, Orange Is the New Black, smashed global viewing records and became a must-see for the world’s LGBT community. Created by Jenji Kohan, and adapted from Piper Kerman’s memoir Orange is the New Black: My Year In A Women’s Prison, the first season struck a chord with fans for its candid, flaws-and-all portrayal of the diverse population of women in the prison system. It’s positive representation of lesbian, bisexual and trans characters made Orange Is The New Black (OITNB) instantly resonate with LGBT viewers, who have been waiting impatiently for season two, which is released in its entirety on Netflix tomorrow, June 6. So, was it worth the wait?
One month after the events of the final episode of season one, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) has been locked in solitary confinement for her violent attack on fellow inmate, Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning). Dishevelled, broken and more neurotic than ever, our heroine is at the end of her tether. From the get-go, it’s apparent that the straight-laced Piper we once knew is long gone.
Directed by Jodie Foster, episode one is a little slow to get off the ground – but when it does get going it’s TV at its finest. We are not reunited with our Litchfield ladies straight away, but instead the action turns to flashbacks of Piper’s childhood and events we could have never imagined, offering us some insight into what formed her uptight, good-girl persona.
Towards the end of season one, I for one had come to hate Piper a bit (I call it the Jenny from The L Word effect), but if these new glimpses into her most traumatic childhood moments, combined with a major ‘WTF moment’ didn’t put Piper back in my good graces, it’s Schilling’s captivating, Emmy-worthy performance that did.
As with OITNB season one, Piper is merely a vehicle to tell the stories of the eclectic group of criminals from different classes and ethnic backgrounds who are behind bars. The writers have stuck to this formula, introducing a hoard of brilliant new characters, but unfortunately few of them feature beyond the season opener.
After rumours of Pennsatucky’s pummelling begin to swirl around the cells, Piper uses the event to completely reinvent herself as a badass in order command more power. As a result, her ‘take no prisoners’ (excuse the pun) attitude with the whole new set of inmates is hugely entertaining.
What goes up, however, must come down. From episode two onwards, we’re back in Litchfield with our leading ladies. We’re thrust into the past of more of the inmates, while in present day we learn more about the events that unfolded after season one’s finale. It’s a slow burning season that constantly balances the viewer on a frustrating cliff edge, but it’s hugely satisfying when each bombshell finally gets dropped.
It’s fun to see the character development of the likes of Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba), Morello (Yael Stone), Taystee (Danielle Brookes) and Mendoza (Selenis Leyva), but there’s less subtle comic relief here than in season one, which is vaguely disappointing. The writers seem to be trading sophisticated wit for shock value that sometimes borders on the distasteful (Big Boo, her dog, and some strategically placed peanut butter is all I’ll say).
Jokes, one-liners and wise-cracks are few and far in between, which is a shame considering that a part of the show’s appeal was how it perfectly straddled the line between comedy and drama. Season two lacks the authenticity that originally pulled in viewers, placing cariacture at the centre of the action instead of characters.
Fan favourites like Sophia (Laverne Cox) and Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) are frustratingly underused to make way for less entertaining new characters like Vee (Lorraine Toussaint), a matriarchal type to rival Kate Mulgrew’s Red, and Brooke Soso (Kimiko Glenn), the mousey Litchfield newbie. Of course writers needed to add fresh meat to the cast, but by the end of the screener provided by Netflix, it seems like the gamble hasn’t exactly paid off yet.
It’s with a heavy heart that I have to report that OITNB2 isn’t living up to its first season’s phenomenal status. However, only six episodes in, I will not rule out the possibility of a complete turnaround. And when/if that episode comes, I’ll gladly eat my words and go to SHU.
Orange is the New Black season 2 will be available on Netflix in it’s entirety from June 6.
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