'Orange Is The New Black' TV Review: Netflix Original Series Still Finding Its Way
Netflix’s newest original series, Orange Is the New Black, starring Taylor Schilling and Jason Biggs, premiered on Instant Watch last week to positive reviews. I have only watched the first two episodes, and as a result, the following review does not include the entire thirteen-episode first season.
From the creator of the Showtime hit Weeds, Jenji Kohan, Orange Is the New Black is a dramedy about a woman, Piper (Schilling), who gets sentenced to a year in prison for a crime she committed a decade ago when she was fresh out of college. Piper is the farthest thing from a hardened criminal – she sells artisanal soaps and her wardrobe is straight out of J. Crew. She’s a fish out of water, surrounded by women who seem to have prison life dialed in. The show portrays prison as something akin to high school. There are an infinite amount of social rules to learn, cliques and loyalties to be formed and broken, and a whole strategy Piper has to adopt to work the system. For example, the first episode has Piper figuring out which guards to cozy up to, and which to cry in front of to get a helping hand.
This semi-comical approach to life behind bars is problematic. It seems a bit careless and insensitive given all the problems that plague our justice system (that said, I am no expert on the matter). And, especially during the pilot, the show struggled to find a balance between making smart critiques of the prison system (unorganized visiting days, slow processing, etc.) and making jokes. Schilling, who constantly wears a caught-in-the-headlights expression, is just bland and shy enough to be believable as a reformed bad girl. Schilling is a solid actress, but the weight she gives to Piper causes some of the comedic moments to fall flat. Of course, this is not entirely her fault. Orange Is the New Black simply fails to find its tone and this difficulty is most evident in the character of Piper because she is meant to be the most ambitious character in the show.
Other cast members, with more quirky characters to play, are a delight. Jason Biggs plays Piper’s nerdy, comedic fiancé who is waiting for her on the outside. Biggs is charming and adorable, and his scenes bring a welcome, non-prison humor to the show. Laura Prepon (That 70’s Show) is (so far) underused as Piper’s ex, Alex Vause, who got Piper arrested in the first place. Prepon is always a pleasure to watch, and seeing her play a dark and mysterious drug dealer is extremely entertaining. So far she has only had minor scenes in prison, though she appears often in the flashbacks (doing her best Kat Von D impression).
There are some aspects of Orange Is the New Black that I enjoy, but I am afraid that, overall, it is simply a bit too exaggerated and too forced for me to really call myself a fan.
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