A Good But Not Great New Season For Netflix's 'Orange Is The New Black' Netflix debuts 14 new episodes of prison dramedy Orange Is the New Black. NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans says the show remains compelling, despite the loss of a powerful character from last season.
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A Good But Not Great New Season For Netflix's 'Orange Is The New Black'

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A Good But Not Great New Season For Netflix's 'Orange Is The New Black'

A Good But Not Great New Season For Netflix's 'Orange Is The New Black'

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah, what voices there. Well, now to another set of characters - the ladies of Litchfield Prison have returned to the small screen - or maybe to your mobile device. Netflix released 14 new episodes of its hit series "Orange Is The New Black" last night, a few hours ahead of schedule. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the show's biggest problem this year might be reaching the creative peaks from last year.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: The season starts with middle-class slacker-turned-prison inmate Piper Chapman in a pretty dark place. She's having a casual conversation about suicide with the prison's electrician.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK")

MATT PETERS: (As Joel Luschek) I'm definitely a carbon monoxide guy - put on some tune, breathe deep, go out easy.

TAYLOR SCHILLING: (As Piper Chapman) Maybe pills.

PETERS: (As Joel Luschek) Figures.

SCHILLING: (As Piper Chapman) What do you mean figures?

PETERS: (As Joel Luschek) Pills are expensive, but you don't even think about that.

SCHILLING: (As Piper Chapman) Well, I didn't realize that my hypothetical suicide had a budget.

PETERS: (As Joel Luschek) Welcome to the real world, princess.

SCHILLING: (As Piper Chapman) This is not a healthy discussion.

DEGGANS: Here are all the themes that make "Orange Is The New Black" such compelling television - the middle class's unthinking privilege, the tedium of prison life, the ways in which the guards are nearly as dysfunctional as the inmates. We get great scenes this season with transgender inmate Sophia Burset, who discusses plans for a Mother's Day visit from her son with another inmate whose hair she's styling.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Is somebody coming to visit you this weekend?

LAVERNE COX: (As Sophia Burset) My son, Michael.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Oh, how does that work with you being a lady man and all? Do you and his mother both celebrate the day?

COX: (As Sophia Burset) You really want to be a calling me a lady man when I got a fistful of your hair in my hand.

DEGGANS: The visit with her son, where Sophia gives him some dating advice, goes just about as smoothly.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK")

COX: (As Sophia Burset) Now you want some real advice?

MICHAEL RAINEY: (As Michael) From my second mom or my used-to-be dad.

COX: (As Sophia Burset) My dad told me find a real insecure girl and practice on her.

RAINEY: (As Michael) You really want to be a lady in a world where men do that.

COX: (As Sophia Burset) God help me, I do.

DEGGANS: This is when the show's at its best - their poignant flashback episodes for characters once relegated to the background, like overweight bully Carrie Big Boo Black. But there are also times when the show's message is a bit too on the nose, like when one inmate talks about whether friendships in prison can survive on the outside.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Here's what going to happen when you get out. You'll call each other up, maybe meet for drinks, make more plans but then cancel them. You're avoiding each other because it only took that one drink for you to realize you don't have anything in common. We're not a family. We're a Band-Aid, and once you rip it off, all we are to each other is scars.

DEGGANS: Seems a little more like a speech from "The Shawshank Redemption" if you ask me. What "Orange Is The New Black" really lacks, though, is the kind of drama brought last season by a drug dealer named Vee, who took over the prison's black gang and nearly ran the entire jail until she died during an escape attempt. This year, the show's first six episodes lacked the urgency and focus that Vee's jailhouse maneuvers often brought last year. The result is a really good third season for "Orange Is The New Black," which somehow still feels a little less groundbreaking than the season which came before. I'm Eric Deggans.

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