“Gripes and Shout Outs: The New Season You Might Be Missing on NETFLIX”
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (2013--, NR—definitely for MATURE audiences, 13 episodes, NETFLIX)
Every time a new season of ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK premiers, I groan a little. It isn’t because I dislike the show; up to this season, my overall grade for the series was a solid B.
Last season saw a few missteps, but those mistakes—most of a technical nature—were quickly overshadowed by the performances of Danielle Brooks (“Taystee”) and two-time Golden Globe winner Uzo Aduba (Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren). Other seasons have had their pros and cons as well, but last year could have been the strongest, if not for the horrible voice-overs and the lackadaisical editing.
Season Six of the show picks up exactly where the previous season left off—with the Ladies of Litchfield arriving at other prisons following the dramatic end to the riot. But not all of our Ladies are still with us; you will notice several characters that never appear this season, many of whom are glossed over in their absence and rarely mentioned by this new core of characters. And there are some new ones.
Most effective are Vicci Martinez as “Daddy” and Amanda Fuller as “Badison”. Whereas Daddy is a figure of solidarity and poise (despite the fact that she is running the drug ring in her block of the prison), Badison is the epitome of evil and manipulation, a classic “love to hate her” figure that makes life as miserable as she possibly can for anyone in her vicinity. The sixth season also sees the return of Mackenzie Phillips to television as prison toughie and recovering addict Barbara Denning, one-half of a crazy family whose sister is as hell bent on killing her as she is of her sibling. These dynamics set a tone for the season which plays through to the end, and the tension builds steadily until that ending…that ending…
As usual, no spoilers here, kids. But DAMN, that ending…
The season, however, is not without its faults. Most glaring is one which I point out every year: the series is too much in-the-know (or too much in-the-now, actually) when it comes to current social climes. For a series that likes to begin each season where the last left off, and to show very little time passing during each, the punchlines and commentary are too current to make sense with the show’s continuity. I’m not saying that the jokes are bad—in fact, many of them are spot on. But they don’t work for the time frame set up each season. This season, that contradiction in time is more glaring than in the past seasons.
There is also a storyline which focuses on one of the minor characters this time around that does not work so well for the show. It isn’t enough to slow the rest of the storylines down, but it does make you wonder if the writers were running out of ideas.
Finally, less for Ms. Aduba to do means less meaning for her character. Last season saw Suzanne being pulled in many different directions emotionally, and it super-charged the season. Not so this time around. Taystee goes on trial, and Ms. Brooks finds new emotional depths for her character. So much has transpired for both characters over the last few years (or months, if you are going by the skewed series timeline…), but the inconsistency in the story arcs is irritating. Both of these actresses have defined themselves as artists through their work here, and I was really hoping for more.
But ultimately, this is still a show that revolves around Chapman and Vause, and while Taylor Schilling and Laura Prepon both know their roles intimately by now, watching them seems too predictable. Their characters and storylines have become like old, comfortable slippers.
But even with these gripes, I enjoyed this season—almost as much as the last one. If anything, this latest makes me want to re-watch the previous seasons, just to go back to the beginning and see how far these characters have come. Which would explain this year’s groan at the thought of watching another season of OITNB: looks like I’m going to be busy for the next few weeks revisiting the Ladies of Litchfield. As long as I can finish before the next season of OZARK premieres…
Season Six Grade: B+
Series Grade: B+
-- T.S. Kummelman