By Sam Adams | Criticwire June 5, 2014 at 11:01AM
At midnight tonight (at least on the West Coast), the second season of "Orange is the New Black" will go live on Netflix, but critics have already gotten a look at the first six episodes, and with only a few exceptions, they're calling it a substantial improvement on the show's already great first season. As with Netflix's other all-at-once releases, many publications are splitting the difference between seasonal reviews and episode recaps, scheduling the latter at a leisurely one or two episodes a week, which means they, at least, will be talking about OITNB for a while, even if the show's fans will probably be done with it and hungering for more by Sunday night. Netflix's release model challenges the pace of broadcast TV, and it presents a challenge to established means of reviewing as well, but Criticwire will keep abreast of how critics are adjusting to this brave new world.
Reviews of "Orange Is the New Black," Season 2
David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle
The joy of watching "Orange" is in the writing and performances, of course, but it's also in the process we go through getting to know these characters. We think we have a take on them, but then find out that even the cruelest guard has a heart, that even the most loyal ally is capable of betrayal. That's not unusual in TV, but what is unusual is making such profound character revelations credible. Through the six episodes of the second season made available to critics, it's clear that "Orange" is not only as great as it was the first season, but arguably even better. If you're wondering where to find true TV greatness now that "Breaking Bad" is gone and "Mad Men" has hit the pause button till 2015, look no further than "Orange Is the New Black." It's terrific.
Melissa Maerz, Entertainment Weekly
"Orange Is the New Black" might be the closest thing we have to Charles Dickens right now: a sharp denunciation of an arcane system, driven by hardscrabble characters with whimsical names that define who they are and what they like.
Jace Lacob, BuzzFeed
What makes these women tick, the pasts that they’ve left behind, the heartbreak and loss that led them to this point is slowly teased out through flashbacks that feel, at times, revelatory. Likewise, when the unseen eye of the show pivots to focus on Litchfield’s guards, there is the inescapable sense that they too are imprisoned.
Maureen Ryan, Huffington Post
Intense connections, intense experiences, intense pressures: These things change people, and though "OITNB" is wry and light on its feet often enough, the drab Litchfield prison contains a potent atmosphere. These women are apart from their families and friends, and on top of those gaping losses and the shame attached to jail terms, they've got to contend with the fluctuations of whatever group they've attached themselves to.
Willa Paskin, Slate
"Orange," more than most series, is on a social mission. It's an actively feminist, humanist show that believes in the power of representation. That do-gooderism would sink lesser series, but "Orange" approaches it with the right, eye-rolling spirit: Duh, it's not just the skinny white girl who’s interesting.
James Poniewozik, Time
What Jenji Kohan does in this series is a bit like painting landscapes on a grain of rice; she shows that with enough attention to detail, the tiniest canvas can capture the universe.
Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times
This general spreading of sympathy, of going past stereotype to character -- even with characters who began as stereotypes -- is one of the best and most impressive things about the series. There is tension, but of a quiet sort, and much sweetness. For all its crime-and-punishment underpinnings, it's a story, finally, of what makes a community, and how we break out of our tribes and assignments to make a little human contact.
Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture
Kohan's series stacks the sociopolitical deck by having its mostly plucky heroines endure sneering condescension by emblems of the dominant culture. The problem isn't the sentiments but the clunky way they’re expressed -- as if the writers are reserving the good dialogue for the regulars, along with the empathy. The missteps are easy to forgive because, in content as well as form, "Orange" is a modestly revolutionary show.
Matt Brennan, Slant
No shrinking violet, "Orange Is the New Black" asserts the importance of cultural identifiers (race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality) in shaping the lives of its characters to the point that it flirts with archetype, but it always manages to zoom back out to consider Litchfield's dynamic constellation of conspiracies, shell games, favors, and slights.
Andy Greenwald, Grantland
In Season 2, with Piper no better (and potentially much worse!) off than her peers, the show has finally collapsed the iffy borders that separated the haves from the have-nots, "us" from "them." Everyone is gen pop now, milling about and mixing in disturbing and provocative ways.
Liz Shannon Miller, Indiewire
"Orange" is really a show to appreciate in seasons -- one of the advantages of binge-viewing is that you get a real sense of theme, which it's rich with. At its core, the series is a family drama, a strange dysfunctional family drama that captures a real sense of what it means to find your people in an unexpected place.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
Where last year was driven largely by Piper's assimilation into the prison culture and her on-again, off-again feelings for both Alex and Larry, here there's a bigger story that ramps up the tension and pace while still allowing for all the character touches Kohan and her team do so well. It's the show it was last year, but in many ways better. It's also in a better year, and we'll see how both the show and the year stack up come December, but right now, it's an enormous pleasure to have it back and in such fine form.
Kevin Fallon, Daily Beast
If OITNB successfully depicts how prison life strips these women of their humanity, it's also so engrossing because of its steadfast mission to bring humanity to a cast of characters that, on any other show, would just be cartoon characters in the pursuit of laughs rather than real people. It's the fact that these women seem like real people, though, that make Taystee's glowing sassiness, Nichols' lesbionic wryness, or Crazy Eyes' unsettling oddness so damned funny. Their pain is so believable that their humor is, too.
Brian Lowry, Variety
What felt fresh about "Orange Is the New Black" has quickly gone a bit stale, at least if the first half-dozen episodes from season two are any indication. Netflix's women-in-prison dramedy emerged as a surprise success and burnished the service's reputation on the heels of "House of Cards," but both have discovered that creating sparks and keeping them smoldering are formidably disparate tasks.
Mike Hale, New York Times
Come for the comedy and you can also fall for the sentimental back stories and the sheen of relevance provided by the large ensemble of working-class, minority, lesbian and transgender characters. In exchange, the show promises to remain at the level of magic-realist cable dramedy -- no real emotions allowed for more than a few seconds.