Reviewed! ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Is So Much Fun, It’s a Crime
By Kylie Sparks
(WARNING: This review contains MAJOR SPOILERS of “OITNB” season two!)
When we last left our favorite criminals at the Christmas pageant, Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) threatened and stalked Piper (Taylor Schilling) until Piper cracked and assaulted Pennsatucky so intensely, we weren’t sure if our “meth-addicted hillbilly” would survive. The hit show’s second season picks up shortly after the incident, with Piper locked up in the Shu, using egg yolks as paint colors for her wall drawings. We then find her traveling to an unknown location on a plane next to another inmate, Lolly (a delightful cameo by Lori Petty), until she looks out the window and sees the Chicago skyline. She’s soon reunited with ex-girlfriend Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) awaiting the trial of international drug cartel and Alex and Piper’s former boss Fahri (Sebastian LaCause). Of course, the cards are stacked against Piper; although Alex counsels her to lie under oath, Alex ends up telling the truth and is released while Piper is still incarcerated and fearing the worst on what will happen to her.
Meanwhile, back at Litchfield, life is back to normal, with Mendoza (Selenis Leyva) and her prison family ruling the kitchen and Red (Kate Mulgrew) left out in the cold without her prison family and her dignity. Taystee (Danielle Brooks) is competing in Job Fair with the help of her prison family Poussey (Samira Wiley), Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), Janae (Vicky Jeudy), and Sophia (Laverne Cox), and Pennsatucky returns looking battered and bruised but very much alive.
In the signature “OITNB” style, the first flashback of the second season helps create a new story arc as we see Taystee as a child in a group home, hoping to be adopted, when she encounters a woman named Vee Parker (Lorraine Toussaint, a brilliant addition to the “OITNB” family with such sweetness covering her true malicious ways). We learn Vee operates a drug ring and gives a young Taystee an opportunity to work with her when Vee discovers her business acumen. We then flash-forward to present day to see Vee returning to Litchfield, where she had been incarcerated before for previous crimes, and Litchfield is never the same.
Jenji Kohan’s direction for “OITNB”’s new season, while tying up loose ends, gives us even more backstories for fan favorites as well as characters that were overlooked in the first season. For example, Miss Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat), who is dying of cancer, bonds with a fellow chemotherapy patient while flashing back to her younger bank-robbing days, played with zest and vigor by Stephanie Andujar. We also finally get the truth about Lorna’s (Yael Stone) relationship with her love. With a fully fleshed-out arc for every character, even the mute Norma (Annie Golden), you truly connect and root for (or cover your eyes in fear) for every character in the show.
Kohan also gives us new characters to add to the map, as well. There’s Brook Soso (played by Broadway veteran Kimiko Glenn), a talkative activist who becomes a pawn in Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) and Big Boo’s (Lea DeLaria) ‘bang-off’ and creates a hunger strike to protest the horrible prison conditions.
The writing has made our Piper a hardened criminal, telling Red “I’m trying to be more like you…suffering in silence” — a well-plotted evolution from who she was at the beginning of the dramedy.
Other arcs from the new season include a major black market feud between Vee and Red, as well as Mendoza’s family dealing with Dayanara’s (Dascha Polanco) rape and pregnancy, while also protecting the true father and Daya’s love, C.O. Bennett (Matt McGorry), from arrest. The rape was was blamed on former C.O. ‘Pornstache’ Mendez at the tail-end of last season. And fret not, ‘Pornstache’ comes back — a welcome two-episode arc by Pablo Schreiber.
The writers also give us a glimpse into how Larry (Jason Biggs) is doing post-breakup with Piper, helping her best friend Polly (Maria Dizzia) and her new baby, and how Larry deals with Piper and Piper’s family when Piper is awarded Furlough for her dying grandmother.
All of the performances, from leading lady Schilling to minor characters in flashbacks are so brilliantly crafted that to highlight every single actor on the show would be a whole new review, proving that Kohan hired some of the most gifted actors on television.
Netflix has poured lots of money into their original programming, and with “OITNB”’s production quality, it can’t be beat with framed cinematic moments such as Lorna in Christopher’s bathtub wearing his fiancé’s veil and Piper drinking malt liquor in Queens with the Empire State Building lit up in an eerily similar orange color in the background.
The new season’s plot twists are in the same successful formula as season one with all new surprises at every turn, leaving you wondering what will happen next in Litchfield, singing the infectious theme song (“You’ve Got Time” by Regina Spektor), and excited for the “next episode will play in 10 seconds” countdown.
Between Kohan and her staff’s stellar writing as well as excellent direction (which most of the directors this season are female and include such heavyweights as Jodie Foster), cinematography, and art and production design, “Orange Is the New Black” continues to be so much fun, it should be illegal.
Kylie Sparks is an actor, writer, producer, singer, and pancake enthusiast living in Los Angeles. She owns a pug and a pug-mix and is an avid fan of brunch, SoulCycle, and Bradley Cooper. You can find her on Twitter/Instagram @kyliesparks, or via her website kyliesparks.com.Tags: Jenji Kohan, Kylie Sparks, Netflix, Netflix Original, Orange Is the New Black, Reviews, Taylor Schilling