Is Orange The New Black?

by Colin McGuire. 0 Comments

Yes, we'll get to the season finale of "The Voice." Yes, we'll investigate the rumblings about another installment of MTV's O Awards. Yes, the archiving system for this thing is absurdly incompetent. Yes, there never seems to be enough time, like Jesse Spano once proclaimed. Yes, these are the 20 best Jay-Z songs ever. And yes, friends, orange is the new black.

Or, at least so says Netflix, which plans to release the series to the masses on July 11. It's not unfair to say that the thing has risen from relative obscurity — "House of Cards" was the originator, "Arrested Development" was the splashy established product and even "Hemlock Grove" benefited from having Eli Roth's name attached to it. This time around, all we got was a "wait, what's this?" trailer posted on the streaming service's home page what now seems like light-years ago.

It was easy to dismiss at first ("Oh, so this is what Big Red had planned after all the hype regarding its foray into original programming died down). These days? Well, to the surprise of many (and by "many," I mean "me," of course) the series' first run is gaining almost universal praise from The Reporters Who Cover Internet Television. I mean, wow — even The New Yorker weighed in ...

"Smart, salty, and outrageous, the series falls squarely in the tradition of graphic adult cable drama; were you pitching it poolside in Beverly Hills, you might call it the love child of 'Oz' and 'The L Word,'" Emily Nussbaum wrote recently. "In different hands, this might be a cringe-worthy premise: a vanilla cupcake wedged in among the down-and-out and the black-and-brown. But the show blows Kerman’s anxious, observant memoir wide open, presenting her perspective as merely one within a kaleidoscope of experiences."

The Kerman to which Ms. Nussbaum is referring, of course, is Piper, "a creative-class yuppie," as the writer so eloquently puts it, who spent a little more than a year in prison after her girlfriend turned out to be an international drug trafficker. Because this is the Greatest Country In All The Land (Happy Fifth of July!), the former inmate used that experience for the basis of a memoir, which now, of course, has become the basis of an Internet television series. Land of the free. Home of the brave.

As I noted earlier this week with July's Netflix Pix, the trailers I've viewed have been, in a word, obscene, and despite my penchant for obscenity (oh, don't act like you don't enjoy a few bad words and suggestive visuals every now and then!), I probably shouldn't post the extended commercial for the series on this particular, family-friendly website (renew your subscriptions now!). Disappointing, I know. I will, however, wax poetic on the thing, despite not seeing a single episode or even reading Kerman's book.

Because that's what we do at TV Without A TV. That, friends, is what we do.

To this point, "Orange Is The New Black" has served as the Jimmy Fallon to two different "Tonight Show" hosts. It's been so overlooked that you almost have to think it's set up for success. No expectations = no chance of failure, some would argue, and that's not entirely wrong. Worst-case scenario, it comes and goes without earning a single, solitary click of a mouse. Best-case scenario, it finds out in two years that it's going to take Johnny Carson's old job. Life: How ironic!

Here's the thing, though. The series has already been renewed for a second season (man, Netflix really likes to plug things into the outlet before ever even asking about the consequences of its electric bill, now doesn't it?). And, that in mind, those writing about the show are seemingly eager to point out how they are waiting for the whole operation to fail, despite how unexpectedly good the first bunch of episodes is. That's your cue, Tim Goodman, of The Hollywood Reporter ...

"Could it all still go off the rails? Sure," he wrote earlier this week. "Anytime there’s clashing tonality — a staple of 'Weeds' — the balance can go wrong with alarming swiftness and mess up a good thing. But I eagerly devoured the first four episodes and will no doubt watch the other two Netflix made available to critics before polishing the season off when it drops in its entirety on July 11.

"In fact," Goodman continued, "surprising may be the key description for 'Orange Is the New Black.' It constantly offers more than you expect, and even when it delivers something either predictable or straight from the 'women’s prison drama' handbook, it then counters with something fresh or unexpected. Netflix has already renewed 'Orange' for a second season, but we’ll know more about the show’s ability to keep up this difficult balance as the episodes from this freshman season play out. In any case, it has staying power, so by all means self-surrender to it."

And, as we like to say in the business (and by the business, I mean the industry) so it goes. Much like we've done with both "House of Cards" and "Arrested Development," look for some utterly exaggerated, obnoxiously fervent reaction to the show one way or the other in the next few weeks. Here's hoping it works, though. The more quality original entertainment these streaming services can create, the quicker we can get to justifying this blog's existence.

Because that, friends, as we all know, is far more important than revolutionizing an entire entertainment medium.


Now, take a look at the one thing Taylor Schilling, the show's star, is known for and send a prayer to the sky that "Orange Is The New Black" is at least slightly better than this ...

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