Jun 282015
 
Title: Orange Is The New Black Season 3
Genre: Drama
Starring: Taylor Schilling,
Michael Harney,
Kate Mulgrew,
Uzo Aduba,
Danielle Brooks,
No. Of Episodes: 13 Episodes
Network: Netflix

Being able to produce their own original programming under their ‘Netflix Originals’ banner, the film and television programme streaming service has recently turned into a mixed bag of quality from a pretty high standard. For every season of Daredevil, we’re finding more disappointing shows like Between creep on. The brand is starting to become diluted somewhat with some of their name-making staple & award-winning shows like House Of Cards returning to muted fan & critical response. Sadly continuing that trend is the third season of women’s prison drama/comedy series Orange Is The New Black, which has somehow managed to pick up a bloated & unnecessary cast along with it’s muddled tone & unsatisfactory storylines for this year.

In a rather clean-slate start of the latest season in Litchfield women’s prison, former New York well to do girl Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling, Argo) has grown to be rather streetwise and a staple inmate, when her ex-lover Alex (Laura Prepon, That 70’s Show) walks back into her life. The prison itself is looking at being closed down and Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow) struggles to keep it & his de-motivated guard staff together. The Hispanic prisoners are bracing themselves for the arrival of a baby. The African-American element is… just sitting around still. There’s a growing cult of faith enthusiasts around silent Norma (Annie Golden, 12 Monkeys). And Doggett (Taryn Manning, Hawaii Five-0) starts getting friendly with a new guard.

The core problem that OITNB this season struggles to get rid of is it’s identity genre of being in either the ‘Dram-edy’ or ‘Come-ma’ camps. For first look at my critique there, you’re about to bash your keyboard with your fingers over essentially both being the same thing there but hear me out first. With Dramedy, it’s clear that the emphasis is still on the drama and how a show concept deals with that first but still has the odd moment of black comedy or an uplifting comical moment to balance out the dark and the light. With Comema, there is more focus of the LULZ with any sense of drama being kept to the background. Whilst there are moments of humour, the noticeable gear change – intentional or not – takes some getting used as there is no sense of threat because there’s a few slapsticky moments not too far away throughout this season. It all leads up to a ‘Jump The Shark’ moment for this show; where we have Piper giving a rousing speech about how, despite being a prison inmate, you can make a name and life for yourself as part of the American Dream (all whilst on top of a picnic table out in the prison courtyard)… before a guard walks over and the backing American patriotism music cuts off like a vinyl player with a screech and she sits back down. It’s distracting and show-breaking. Completely removed me from any investment I may have had left truth be told.

With these comedic elements at the forefront, no drama can be taken seriously anymore. Taystee (Daniielle Brooks, Girls) starts eating Kosher or blessed for Jewish faith meals because it’s a better quality than the usual prison slop and by the end of Season 3 she converts to the faith… and I was left confused whether it was a legit change or a long-con to continue getting better food. There’s a stunning rape scene and it managed to shock me more than Game Of Thrones 5‘s one simply because it came out of nowhere more than anything else. But from there, we get a Scooby Doo-esque revenge plot that doesn’t result in any serious repercussions. Female empowerment aside, it’s hardly the correct way to deal with a serious act such as the one committed, nor does it come off as such.

To give Season 3 some credit, there are actually some decent one-liners which I did genuinely laugh out loud at. The mixing of the various minority cultures gifted us the ‘Blasian’ tag and Healy the councillor (Michael Harney, True Detective) having a insulting but jokey pop at Alex during a drama class after a new guard was mixing with the African American prison populace was genuinely funny. Throw in the usual pleasurable standard of acting from all the cast and it’s enough to keep you going until the end of the season at least. Having said that, the humour feels rather fan service-y with a clothing sweat shop being set up in the prison & a bed-lice outbreak leads to excuses for all the attractive girls to walk around in next to nothing (your female empowerment goes down the plughole there then) and there’s some plots that are too icky to be comedic – a worn panties business? That’s more gross than jokes guys.

The main theme to take away from Orange Is The New Black 3 is wheel spinning. That’s not coming from the characters or storylines either; it’s the root of a crippling cancer which makes everything feel very standstill. There is simply not enough progression you would expect from another season of our heroine prison inmates. Sure for the bigger or more useful characters there is some but with a vast cast it’s hardly noticeable. Take the overlong, drawn out and unsatisfactory 90 minute season finale. There are at least five character flashbacks that touch on some aspect to their story arc and they’re mainly less than a minute. Far too quick to really mean anything in the grand scheme of an episode meant to blow everything off as the season’s boiling point. The vast majority of characters fall into two camps with one bunch staying in the exact same situation we started off at the start of Season 3. The other, we have managed to slam into reverse to revisit old relationships and plots we’ve seen before with nary any interesting changes. Oh look, Alex and Piper are back together again. Wow. Haven’t seen that before. Oooop, there’s drama over who gets to run the kitchen. Oh and people manage to get their hands on drugs again so there’s addiction themes all over the shop. Progression!

Orange is the new black Season 3 Ruby Rose

What’s worse, the show actually seems to realise about halfway through it’s got a problem and attempts to correct itself with some of the stronger episodes where relevant plots begin to form to start coming together – only for the conflicting tone to kick in big time and any face value seriousness is misguided. Poor characterisation is throughout. For example, the Hispanics all moan like bloody fuck about how they’ve been all bad mothers to their daughters with some being in prison with them at the same time. The pregnant one decides to put her baby to a rich family for adoption so it could have a better life rather than get involved with hispanic family members who are involved with crime. She then gets chastised by one or two of the other latinas for doing so. What. The. Fuck. Okay so I’m broadly basing a whole group of characters as one but blimey that is some serious back-pedalling there in a short space of time which makes everyone look worse off. The pacing is shit at times. In that 90 minute finale, we have a fairly big cliffhanger ending for one character, but then we cut to a 10 minute long group character moment. It’s fine, it’s cute, but any drama is all but evaporated away. It really is maddening that someone thought yeah this will be fine and has managed to get away with it.

My own personal problem in OITNB is that there is now seriously far too many characters. You could boot out the entire big hispanic section of the cast – who despite having their own unique traits (pregnant, crazy hair, young, mum of prego), all seem to blur into one entity – and there would be still at least five pointless characters we have to find dialogue or moments for still. Plenty have run their course and some are lucky enough to written out halfway through. But girls like Morello (Yael Stone, Spirited) whose storyarc finished towards the end of last season are given a bigger role with less to do. What was the point exactly? Honestly, a fire at the prison would not go amiss to clear out the dead wood. We have individual flashback episodes again and it’s mainly done for a character spot rather than enhancing characters arcs or storylines. Not a real issue per se, but it’s hard, very hard, not to dismiss it as needless fluff in a season which struggles at best of times to clearly set up it’s shop stall with it’s intentions. What’s worse, it’s mainly characters who aren’t really that interesting and only adds questions in a bad way. A side effect is that it’s taken the focus of the show off Piper. So fair enough after two seasons, you can’t really keep up the concept of the white, middle class and up New York girl going to a prison as she develops to be more streetwise – she’s at that point now where she is more clued up – but then she’s just another inmate; a part of the brick in the wall. She’s hardly the main focus anymore in a subtracted character role.

In closing, let’s look back to how wholesome and fresh Orange Is The New Black was when it hit the block and then went on to offer a worthwhile follow-up season 2. Remember how good it was? Now happily presume it was cancelled by Netflix and don’t waste your time in this dreary, laborious and worthless pretender of a third season. The quality of the acting is still at a good standard and it is amusing, but Jesus this has structure & pacing problems with a too large a character role call for anything to sink in. Cherish the good times and ignore this bad mark on a show that is now only 66% good.  A week at Borstal would not be long enough to beat the problems out of this one.

Terry Lewis@lewisonlife.

Verdict: