When Season 1 of Orange Is The New Black debuted on Netflix it proved that House Of Cards wasn’t a fluke and that the streaming service could compete with the US TV networks in terms of quality. However it was noticeable that while it was entertaining, it sometimes felt like its best characters were given short shrift, while the less interesting ones got all the screen time.
They seem to have realised that as with Season 2 the show manages to far better integrate the likes of the majestic Laverne Cox’s Sophia (although she’s still not in it enough), and Uzo Aduba’s ‘Crazy Eyes’. Indeed the show gives Uzo so much room to showcase her talents that she won an Emmy. It’s great that in a rare show that’s peopled almost completely by women, Orange Is The New Black has grown the confidence to realise that it has enough great characters that any of them can carry the story.
It’s a bit darker this time around, still mixing comedy and drama behind the bars of the Litchfield Prison, but shaking things up with the introduction of Vee, who causes ructions by attempting to build her fiefdom by testing loyalties, breaking down friendships and generally doing her Machiavellian best to put herself in the centre of things, no matter how much trouble it causes.
It’s a great way to introduce new sides to the likes of Piper and Red, which is particularly important for Piper, as while the series was initially built around her arrival in prison, in some respects she’s less interesting than nearly everyone else around her. To be honest, even with some stronger plots and increased complexity, she’s still not quite as fascinating as most of the other inmates. Again there is a realisation of this, as while Orange Is The New Black is still about Piper, in many respects she is more the key part of an ensemble look at power struggles and group dynamics, than the fish out of water main character she was in the first season.
It is the characters and tone that are Orange Is The New Black’s master-card. It would have been easy for the show to present these women purely as victims or villains – the good guys locked up for breaking the law while helping puppies (or something similar), while the bad guys were frothing fonts of pure evil. Instead it ensures these are more realistic prisoners, who have plenty of things you can empathise with, but who are also tough, have done some pretty bad things and with some of them you know they would do those things again – if not worse – if pushed.
Season 2 also keeps the show’s refreshing take on sexuality, where some characters are gay, some straight, some bisexual, some gay but only while in prison, but the series doesn’t really care, other than how it feeds in to who they are as people. In most prison shows/films, homosexuality is used as code for something else – power, desperation, survival, need, degradation – but here it’s something that purely is, only becoming something else at key moments.
The women of Litchfield will be returning soon with Season 3 on Netflix, but if you need to catch up it’s well worth getting hold of the Blu-ray release of Season 2, which offers great picture quality and some decent extras.
Overall Verdict: A great trip back into the women’s prison, with a season that allows some many of the characters to shine, while shaking things up enough to keep it fresh.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac