by Mike Lunsford, Editor
Ahh summertime, where the livings easy as George Gershwin liked to say. If you’re old-school like I am, you’re also used to television shows going into re-runs until the fall. However, to quote another famous musician that was also before my time, “times they are a-changin’.” Instead of being left with a glut of television that you’ve already seen, now we have Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube Red, and just about every television network has on demand programming! You can watch what you want whenever you want! Infinite choices, each with the possibility of being amazing or completely crappy.
“But Mike, how do we sift through what is good and what isn’t?”
Well, aren’t you glad that I’m here? I’ve made a point to watch lots of these shows that aren’t the typical ComicsOnline fare. I did this for you, readers of comicsonline.com and not because I love television. The sacrifices I make FOR YOU…ok not really. I will put out a series of articles throughout the summer reviewing the shows and movies I’ve watched so you can broaden your viewing horizons.
We’ll start with Netflix. The biggest fish in the Netflix pond is definitely Orange Is The New Black: Season 5. Netflix took a chance on this show a few years back and they have been happy for this choice ever since.
Orange Is The New Black: Season 5 (minor SPOILERS)
I am a relatively new convert to this particular Netflix phenomenon. My wife turned me on to the show last year and we binged watched all of the previous 4 seasons together. Let me state this up front: I like OITNB. In fact, I like it a lot. However, season 5 left me wondering how they went wrong this time around. The ending of season 4 was jarring and emotionally taxing (read the review for season 4 by JDilla right here). Season 5 continues seconds after the end of the previous.
The accidental death of Poussey acted as a catalyst, sending the prison into a full-fledged riot. Daya (Dascha Polanco) has gotten C.O. Humphrey’s gun (that he is NOT supposed to have in a medium security prison) and is being egged on to shoot him by the other nearly hysterical inmates. The rest of the prison continues to devolve into chaos as the guards lose complete control and the inmates take over.
The entire season, all 13 episodes, transpire in a matter of 2-3 days real time. In previous seasons, the time span is much longer. However, with something as intense as a riot, this makes sense that all the details are vital. As I stated before, I like this show though this particular season left me tired of the formula. It’s a tried and true system of “here’s a character in present day, let’s show some of their back story through flashbacks,” that Lost turned into an often copied trope. This was the first season it felt stale. Not only that, there are far too many characters. Just off the top of my head, we are following the paths of nearly a dozen inmates. They’re not treated as secondary characters either, each one really gets to show their depth. There are dozens of shows out there that do similar ensemble casts, and none of them can do it indefinitely without it getting old at some point. OITNB is no exception.
This focus on so many characters can work well. Certain inmates really shine in this season, namely Taystee (Danielle Brooks) and Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” (Uzo Aduba). Taystee was outraged about the death of her best friend, Poussey and would not be sated by simple platitudes and “hot Cheetos.” I was truly impressed by her growth as a character and how she wouldn’t stop until her friend’s death received the justice it deserved.
Suzanne, on the other hand made me feel sympathy for her struggle. If you’re familiar with the series, you know that there have been ups and downs with this troubled character and her struggle to find sanity through routine and medication. With the prison in upheaval, she is not able to stay medicated properly. Inmate Morello (Yael Stone) is convincing people they are ‘perfect without their meds’ which only makes matters worse. The show’s commentary on the justice system is always spot on, but their examination of mental illness is poignant as well.
Another heartbreaking character was Baxter Bayley (Alan Aisenberg), the young guard responsible for the death of Poussey. He was inexperienced, scared, and ended up taking someone’s life because of it. He is distraught and doesn’t know what to do to atone. It is truly heartbreaking to watch his struggle and another on-the-nose commentary from the creative team behind this show.
On the other hand, the downside to such a large cast is certain characters lose focus. Main characters such as Piper (Taylor Schilling) and Alex (Laura Prepon, That 70’s Show) that were the focal point of the series when it began, are now boring, bordering on tiresome. This is not particularly a good thing, especially since the original source material, the novel from which this series sprang, is about Piper’s stay in prison. Maybe this was by design that they transferred the weight off the shoulders of one annoying, yuppie, white girl. She gives a speech about how her tattoo is beautiful and not for her…but meant for everyone else to enjoy. That vomit sound you just made is involuntary, I made it, too. But even with Alex’s character, I don’t feel for her struggler any more (and together, they are nearly insufferable). They might be worth than the 2 meth heads.
I gave you the good, I gave you the bad, now let me give you a piece that the jury is still out on. As news of a gun being fired on the grounds of prison gets around, we hear various staff and inmates use colloquialisms to describe what happened (“pulled a Columbine,” or “it’s like Newtown,” or “went all Virginia Tech”). This was not just those 3 examples either. The viewer is beaten over the head with this particular analogy at least half a dozen times. Upon first viewing, I thought this was in bad taste. After thinking about it, this could have been a commentary on the state of affairs in this country. Have we normalized these sorts of acts of gun violence that we make flippant remarks about them? I can’t assume the writers were doing this to prove a point. I also can’t assume they were trying to make jokes in poor taste.
When it comes to season 5 of Orange Is The New Black, the performances are great, however there are way too many characters. It is starting to suffer from series fatigue as their tried and true methods of story presentation are starting to get tired. Overall, it was still very good. When comparing it to other series, OITNB still kicks some serious butt. When compared to other seasons of itself, season 5 was lackluster.
ComicsOnline gives Orange Is The New Black: Season 5 4 social commentaries about the justice system out of 5.
Stay tuned comicsonline.com readers as I have more summer viewing recommendations for you to come.
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