With ‘Orange Is the New Black,’ Netflix Sets Its Sight on HBO

/ Jul 16, 2013

orange is new black

We ranked it:


Orange Is the New Black,” the latest addition to the growing roster of original programming from Netflix, is the sort of transformational milestone that takes a medium in a new direction. For the emerging class of “TV shows” being distributed via the internet (technically referred to as over the top), “Orange Is the New Black” will be celebrated as the watershed moment when the best of what (used to be called) TV has to offer can only be seen via such new, unwired video distributors as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube, and (perhaps) Apple. Man the lifeboats — a sea-change has arrived.

From nearly every angle of the dramatic video lens, “Orange Is the New Black” is a masterpiece of texture, woven by intense character interactions centered on the life of a young, recently-engaged woman, serving a 15-month sentence for carrying money for a drug cartel. What separates Netflix’s latest original show from others of its kind is its ability to seamlessly weave together disparate story arcs revealing how various characters wound up behind bars. What could have been a heavy-handed series of plotlines told in banal flashback form are instead evocative, often heart-wrenching turning points presented in a straightforward manner.

The plot is based on the real life experiences of Piper Kerman’s memoir, “Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison.” Kerman serves in an advisory capacity for the show, which was already renewed for a second season in advance of its July 11 debut. Netflix is putting money behind its programming aspirations.

This view of life behind bars at a women’s correctional facility is no exercise in prurient titillation; in fact, the prison setting is just a metaphor for any setting where man’s inhumanity to man can be explored under a microscope revealing intersecting and diverging story arcs. At a higher level, the sort of tribal behavior we see in “Orange Is the New Black” varies little from what you would find in your average melodrama about office politics or high school rivalries. What separates Jenji Kohan’s creation (she of “Weeds” fame) is a repertoire of actors whose performances are almost uniformly brilliant, resulting in the sort of ensemble work recognized by peers on Emmy night.

At the center of this addictive hurricane of dramatic force is Taylor Schilling who stars as Piper Chapman. She, along with her former lover (played by Laura Prepon), is behind bars for their part in a drug smuggling operation. Schilling is a stereotypical WASP character forced to deal with the sort of nightmarish encounters never imagined during her safe days in the dorm at Smith College. Schilling is engaged to Larry, a struggling 34-year-old writer living off his parent’s begrudging good graces. Jason Biggs, who we have seen as the star of the “American Pie” series of films, approaches the role but never attacks it — one of the minor complaints that mar near perfection. I am undecided as to whether Schilling deliberately underplays her role, allowing the sterling supporting cast to carry the load, or whether she is terribly miscast. After viewing eight of 13 episodes, the jury is out. (Yes, I am a binge viewer.)

The ensemble is overflowing with brilliance, most notably veteran actress Kate Mulgrew as Galina ‘Red’ Reznikov, the stern major domo of the prison kitchen. Mulgrew approaches the role with that essence of power conveyed less by over emoting and hand waving and more from carefully measured laser-beam gazes and an economy of meaningful dialog. Joining her with a superb performance is Natasha Lyonne, in an art-imitates- life turn as drug addict facing serious family issues while going cold turkey. And let’s not leave out the work of a slew of character actors — Michelle Hurst as Miss Claudette, Pablo Schreiber as George Mendez, the unctuous guard without any moral compass, and Laverne Cox as Sophia Burset, a transgender woman who is both the scorn and conscience of her peers.

A few things bother me beyond some of the lead performances, the most of notable which is the whole Jewish-shiksa thing that goes on between Larry and his WASP -y wife to be. The point of that overplayed boy-girl dynamic (dating back to Old Time Radio days) seems both ill conceived and quite trivial in grand scheme of things.

Without going into the business models of future television distribution, the goal of which is to disrupt cable and satellite services, Netflix understands that the future of its business is based on reducing subscriber churn and attracting new customers — especially the growing group of “cord cutters.” One way of achieving that goal is to offer original content, following the path created decades ago by HBO and Showtime. I, for one, would have nuked my Showtime subscription years ago if it weren’t for “Nurse Jackie,” “Dexter,” and now “Ray Donovan.” In fact, we opted to dole out an extra ten spot for Starz just to watch “Magic City.” For those who think a small handful of shows cannot make or break a network are not familiar with the 80-20 rule.  Netflix, whose customer base was built offering selection and convenience to the video rental crowd, succeeded in euthanizing Blockbuster and its ilk. Now, with 29.7 million Netflix streamers in the U.S., the service has surpassed HBO in number of domestic subscribers. If the net result of this digital dogfight is new, compelling fare for multi-screen viewers, we should have some great content on the horizon.

Tags: , , , , , ,

LiveOutdoors.com Evolve Media

CraveOnline Bets on Manly Men with LiveOutdoors Revamp

Kin Community

Web Series Wednesday: 5 Shows From Kin Community


Kaltura Helps MotorTrend Go SVOD


Why Google, Disney and Verizon Are Teaming Up to Bring...

Industry Tickets Selling Fast!
Click above to lock in your registration for VidCon 2015!
Logan Paul The Thinning Legendary Digital Entertainment

Viner Logan Paul Mounting Multi-City Black Friday Promo Tour for...


How YuppTV is Cornering the Expat Streaming Market


National Geographic Rolls Out First Slate of Digital Originals


HorseLifestyle Opens Stable of Streaming Content for Equine Obsessives

Snapchat 2

How Snapchat is Helping Users Discover New Perspectives With...

John Boswell Melodysheep

YouTube Mashup Artist Melodysheep Signs with WME

Kurt Hugo Schneider

Sony Music Orders Kurt Hugo Schneider YouTube Series

Ours to Lose #OursToLose YouTube

How YouTube is Fighting Climate Change with #OursToLose

AT&T A+E Networks

AT+T and A+E Sign Multi-Year Pact for Linear TV, VOD, Mobile and...

Fusion debuting new series on Snapchat Discover

How Snapchat Is Courting Advertisers With Audience Targetting

New York Times Logo

Four Months After Shake-up, New York Times Names a New Video Chief

vox mediaaaaa

Vox Teams Up with Snapchat Discover


Why Otter Media Is Pumping $22 Million Into Crunchyroll


5 Emerging Unboxing Channels

Dunkin Donuts Cakeworks Branded Video

What Makes Branded Video Great?


How Jukin Media’s Wire Helps Users Find Viral Videos...

Elliott Morgan

Vimeo Grabs Another Comedy Special from Elliot Morgan and Supergravity

Machinima Logo

Machinima Hires Don Reilley to Head Brand Partnerships, Preps...

Family Fun Pack Collective Digital Studio CDS

Collective Digital Studio Orders Family Fun Pack YouTube Channel


Nickelodeon’s Noggin Chases Preschool Viewers with New...

Cameron Dallas

Cameron Dallas Signs with Brillstein Entertainment Partners


YouTube Pledges Legal Support for Creators’ Fair Use Claims

Cinedigm Logo

Cinedigm Takes Majority Stake in ConTV

Amazon Studios

Amazon Removes Option Clause as it Unveils Free Cloud-Based...


Why Hollywood is Investing In Tubi TV

Awesomeness Films

Awesomeness Films and Jurassic Party Sign First-Look Deal


Web Series Wednesday: Five Shows From All Def Digital


Vimeo’s Content Chief Greg Clayman to Exit By Year’s End


As Western Streaming Content Booms, China Cracks Down On Set-Top Apps

John Malkin Ovation

Ovation TV Taps John Malkin to Head Cross-Platform Content Strategy

Here's how musicians should use facebook

How To Increase Video Completion on Facebook [Study]

Logan Paul The Thinning Legendary Digital Entertainment

Legendary Digital Acquires Young Adult Thriller ‘The...


Sky Creates Satellite/Digital Hybrid Sky Q

Chelsea Handler Netflix

Chelsea Handler’s Netflix Doc Series Gets January Premiere Date

Firetalk Logo

Live streamer Firetalk Gets More Interactive with New Guest Feature


How Univision is Riding the SVOD Wave with Univision Now