Orange is the New Black Season 3 – Stakes its Claim as the Best Dramedy on Television.
First let’s start with a spoiler free review for the handful of people yet to start, are half way through or are dealing with the overwhelming barrage of quality binge programing available on Netflix.
The first season of OITNB was my first foray into binge watching, and the setting, plot structure and character flashbacks were well suited to that type of consumption. As a viewer Season 1 was primarily a comedy, anchored by the ‘fish out of water’ Piper character as our entrance to the prison world. As the season continued, there were wonderful and unexpected (which only amplified their impact) dramatic moments, more realistic of a prison environment. Season 2 I struggled to ‘binge watch’, I personally found that the show changed from a comedy or dramedy to a full drama, the laughs were few and far between. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but when combined with the fact that the at times the show doesn’t really feels like it is an actual prison/ nor do many of the actors/characters feel like they are living in a prison, this gives the drama an uneasy, almost soap opera-esque quality that wasn’t present in Season 1. That’s not to say Season 2 wasn’t great television, the introduction of Lorraine Toussaint’s Vee, responsible for much of the drama, was a livewire and her feud with Red’s crew created wonderful tension. That being said if I want to watch a brutal realistic look at a female prison, I will watch the Australian drama Wentworth, which coincidentally is currently streaming on Netflix.
I am pleased to say that the OITNB I loved and binged watched like a mad man is Season 1, has returned in Season 3. As the narrative and actors have progressed, the shows has matured, its comedy, which can range from slapstick, political and emotional meaningful is almost always on point. This season the writers/showrunners smartly moved the Piper to the sidelines, allowing viewers to engage in backstories for side character we have come to know for several years now. Piper, who has been a divisive character is also given something to do that allows Taylor Shilling to display her comedic chops and reveal Piper’s ruthlessness, posing the question, is this the result of her incarceration or was she always a corrupt character relying on her upper east side upbringing and grace, to hold everyone else accountable for her mistakes. The season also gives viewers a more substantial peak into the lives of the prison staff, particularly new Litchfield Warden, Joe Caputo and his band of underpaid and unhappy prison guards. Overall If you were a fan of season 1 you will love Season 3, those who preferred the tendency for more gritty drama, found in Season 2, may consider it a small step back in quality, but highly enjoyable non the less.
_________________________________________Spoiler Discussion _______________________________________
So first of all, let’s all put our hands together and rejoice..Larry is gone! It was inevitable that when Piper went to prison that her relationship with the insufferable Larry was doom, why they kept him around for a second season is beyond me, I ask you, what exactly did Jason Biggs have hanging over the heads of the show’s creators? With Larry gone and Vee (apparently dead), we welcome back everyone’s favourite immaculately presented inmate and Piper’s love interest, Alex. To the shows credit they give Alex some good material to work with, she isn’t the cool, calm and collective drug dealer we met in season 1, she is on the edge and paranoid that the drug pin she testified against will send someone to kill her in prison. The problem is, after being absent for 95% of Season 2, the reintroduction of Alex, her sexual escapades and eventual ‘girlfriend’ relationship with Piper, feels like the show repeating itself, and it’s not as interesting the second time around. I actually enjoy Alex as a character more when she is interacting with people other than Piper. I was always hoping that she would hook up or become closer friends with Nicky (the fabulous Natasha Lyonne). However Nicky was not long for the world of Season 3 OITNB, early on she is snitched on by stoner prison electrician and is sent to down the road the maximum security, but not before we get another flashback to the drug addled Nicky, a reminder of the control drugs had on her and the cruelty and self-hatred the character was capable of. I had forgotten that Lyonne has a new pilot from Amy Poehler, so her exit was a shock for me but probably shouldn’t have been.
We also said goodbye to prison guard Bennett, leaving poor Dayanara to deal with her pregnancy on her own. I was never a fan of this ‘relationship’ so I have to admit I was pleased to see him go and it gave Dascha Polanco a great emotional arc to work with. The show also gave more screen time to the Latin members of the prison, particularly the ladies running the kitchen Gloria, Jackie, Aledia and Diane.
The takeover of Litchfield by a private company was ripe for satire, and the season had its moments, particularly the ‘new job test’ and reveal of what exactly that new job was (making luxurious panties/lingerie for women on the outside) or the food cost cutting that led to the great kosher revolt and attempts by many inmates to pass themselves off as Jewish. The kosher storyline also gave Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) a truly charming arc.
I have little to say about the introduction of Australian DJ/VJ/Actress Ruby Rose to the cast. Rose certainly has a charisma about her, is magnet on screen and thankfully brought about the inevitable end (for now) of the Piper and Alex melodrama, but I must admit I was glad to see her take that stroll down to Maximum Security in the season finale, not only because I wasn’t sure where they would go with her character in Season 4 but it also solidified Piper as the cold ass bitch used panty boss of the prison.
The religion of Norma was an interesting development and a way for the show to use some of that wit to examine religion and the desperation that can often lead to or fuel the fire of faith. It also served to give one of the more surprising backstories, who would have thought Leanne was Amish?
I’ve read a lot of hate online about the ‘romantic flirtation’ between Red and Healey, while I didn’t hate it and enjoy that OITNB can have an awful character do nice things, I think Red/Kate Mulgrew deserves a better storyline. I have my fingers crossed that she gets something meaty in Season 4.
My two favourite storylines of Season 3 have to be the thoughtful friendship that developed between Pennasatucky (Taryn Manning) and Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) the actresses really deserve awards recognition in my humble opinion, their friendship and heartbreaking flashbacks provide the characters with perhaps the most development of all the ensemble and that’s saying a lot. Pennasatucky is involved in one of the more dramatic subplots of the season, it is a stark reminder that these women are indeed in prison and vulnerable to those in charge, often men.
The other wonderful storyline is Susan ‘Crazy Eyes’ becoming Litchfield’s famous erotic fiction author. God I hope we get an easter egg or release of a few chapters on the show’s website because I REALLY want to read it. Only a prison show in the vein of OITNB could examine the pressures of fame, challenges of creativity and whether or not you can live solely off the protein rich cum of Admiral Rodcocker.