Jenji Kohan’s critically-acclaimed Netflix series, “Orange is the New Black” is back for its second season. Set in a woman’s correctional facility, the high-brow humor, witty literary references, and evolving characters all bring an interesting twist to the prison television drama. Even better news for fans of the show, all 13 episodes of the second season have been released at one time, completely affirming the instant gratification, binge-viewing culture of which many of us are a part.
The show is based on a true story and a book by Piper Kerman called “Orange Is the New Black”: My Year in a Women’s Prison. Kerman also lends her first name to the shows main character, Piper Chapman.
The first season of the show was centered on Piper Chapman, played by Taylor Schilling, as she goes from being an engaged, well-to do New Yorker to a hardened inmate in the American justice system. Chapman turns herself in to authorities for a crime she committed 10 years prior with her at-the-time girlfriend, Alex, played by Laura Prepon of “That 70’s Show” fame. The two ex-lovers find themselves reunited after a decade, now amongst a host of comical and sometimes crazy inmates. Despite being a show centered on the lives of convicted criminals, the lines of black and white often blur as the characters and their motives develop throughout the course of the show.
The second season of the show reintroduces a Piper Chapman we have not seen before. No longer the scared woman thrown into the prison system, Chapman is hardened by her experiences and returning with a new, edgier perspective. With 13 more episodes, the spotlight has turned slightly away from Piper Chapman and toward the numerous women and guards that create such a brilliant show. As the numerous faces of the prison change and mature, the stories of the women mature with them. The development of the fantastic cast goes so far as to include an episode without the show’s main character involved.
The backgrounds of the supporting characters are told almost entirely through flashbacks of times before prison walls, snippets into the varied and colorful lives that this cast of characters used to live. From time spent in affluent families to committing credit card fraud, the show holds nothing back when it comes to creating a realistic group of prisoners. New introductions into the prison’s social atmosphere will bring up drama for returning characters as old faces disappear into the correctional system.
With the entirety of the goings-on inside of the prison walls, the outside world does sometimes seem a little boring in comparison. That may be the point, but the scenes of the show involving Piper’s fiancé Larry, played by Jason Biggs, seem a little too boring. While his struggles seem uninteresting in comparison, it is the contrast between the inside and outside worlds that was at one point the basis for the show. Long gone are the days of Larry worrying about Piper and her time in prison, Now Piper struggles to make her own place in a cut-throat and sometimes confusing prison world.
Overall, what is most impressive about the second season of the show is its ability to create humility and humanity in a group of characters who share some violent and dangerous backgrounds. Characters begin to develop beyond their stereotypes, and in many ways this is a good thing. With characters continuing to just fulfill archetypal roles a show can become stale and boring quite quickly, losing the interest that a new show carries with it. Jenji Kohan and the crew behind “Orange is the New Black” are continuing to prove that there is some real fight in the online media streaming industry. With Banners for the show streaming across major websites throughout the internet, the hype is out for the new season, and it’s definitely worth a watch.