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Is 'Orange Is the New Black' the Year's Best New Show?

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire July 11, 2013 at 1:09PM

Is this women-in-prison series the year's best new show?
1

Orange Is the New Black

What: Orange Is the New Black, which follows bourgeois soap-maker Taylor Schilling into a women's prison.

When: All 13 episodes are now available on Netflix.

Why:

Though Orange didn't have the pre-release building up of House of Cards or the Arrested Development revival, most critics call it the fledging content-creator’s best original series to date, deftly sending up women-in-prison cliches and expanding the book's point of view to include working-class, non-white perspectives rarely seen on screen.

Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter:

Series creator Jenji Kohan (Weeds), has crafted a dramedy based on the popular memoir of the same name from Piper Kerman and infused it with an unpredictable flow of laughs, seriousness, an impressive and measured reveal of character backstories, and enormous potential.

Brian Lowry, Variety:

At first, the show feels like it's going to paint with a familiar palette, capitalizing on Piper's status (much like the pot mom from Weeds) as a waif-like outsider in a seamy world. As the action unfolds, though, Kohan and company explore unexpected quadrants as they recount the stories of other inmates, flashing back to reveal snippets or clues regarding how they wound up there.

James Poniewozik, Time:

You may come for the culture-clash cringe-comedy; it's the real human stories that will have you captivated.

Emily Nussbaum, New Yorker:

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. 

Maureen Ryan, Huffington Post:

Creator Jenji Kohan hasn't just given us an intriguingly compromised lead character, she's also created an entire world, an alternately sly and sad pressure cooker that offers an enticing range of complicated relationships and unstable power dynamics.... It is mind-boggling that so many disparate things hang together so well in Orange, which manages to be both subversive and serious, sweet and viciously barbed. 

Alan Sepinwall, HitFix:

At first the show felt merely like a pleasant surprise -- Kohan and company surpassing the most minimal of expectations -- but as I began buzzing through one hour after another after another in that addictive Netflix way where episodes are stacked appealingly in front of you like Pringles, I was feeling genuine enjoyment. Orange Is the New Black is perhaps the least-heralded Netflix original so far. It's also the most satisfying. 

Alison Willmore, Indiewire:

Orange is the New Black has neither the intricate construction of the fourth season of Arrested Development nor the high gloss of prestige of House of Cards (though it does have Jodie Foster as an episode director), but in its tart, empathetic narrative it manages to have more vitality than both put together.

Melissa Maerz, Entertainment Weekly:

The new Netflix series from Weeds creator Jenji Kohan isn't the bleak bend-over-and-cough drama you might expect. It's very funny and occasionally quite moving, with a crackerjack cast and provocative insights into the way that race and power and magical chickens function in the penal system. We'll get to the chickens later. 

Mary McNamamara, Los Angeles Times:

The women-in-prison genre has traditionally served as a voyeuristic sexual exercise, either violent or erotic -- there is no Cool Hand Luke or Green Mile for gals. Kohan quickly, and firmly, acknowledges the fetish potential with guards who run the (mild) gamut of obsession -- with lesbians, with dominance -- before moving on. Yes, many inmates have sex, with each other and with themselves. And, yes, it's graphic and often overlong, but it's never gratuitous.

Robert Bianco, USA Today:

Instead, what you get from Jenji Kohan's (Weeds) unexpectedly affecting new 13-episode series is a true rarity: a deft mix of comedy and drama in which the prison feels like a real place and the women are actual people, rather than a thinly veiled excuse to stage catfights, lesbian fantasies and sexual assault.

Mike Hale, New York Times:

Orange may be a roughly hourlong show, but it has the soul of a sitcom or a teen drama -- it's more Gossip Girl than Oz -- and situations tend to resolve themselves through slightly over-the-top humor and an increasingly prevalent sentimentality.

Matthew Wollin, PopMatters:

For sure, the more time you spend with Chapman's new compatriots, the richer the show becomes, but it also confuses the show's focus. Is it about Chapman's expanding worldview? Is it a substantive critique of classism or racism more generally? Is it a melodrama built on clashing personalities and ambitions?... Even as the show might be all of these things, it doesn't cohere into an effective whole. 

Todd VanDerWerff, A.V. Club:

Orange Is the New Black is one of the best new shows of the summer, a fully realized and presented TV series almost from the word go, and the first Netflix original project that makes the big "next episode" button that pops up at every episode's end all too easy to click. Where both Weeds and the book the series is based on fell too in love with their own certainty, the TV version of Orange Is the New Black is about discovery, about the sorts of people who too often fall through the cracks, and it's told with almost painful earnestness by voices that are rarely presented on our televisions. It's also frequently whimsical, surprisingly funny, and deeply moving.

David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle:

The title is too clever by half, the setup doesn't sound promising and the first episode isn't entirely convincing, but it won't take long for you to start thinking Orange Is the New Black might just be the best new show of the year.

This article is related to: Reviews, Orange is the New Black, Channel Guide


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