Orange Is the New Black follows engaged Brooklynite Piper Chapman, whose wild past comes back to haunt her and results in her arrest and detention in a federal penitentiary. To pay her debt to society, Piper trades her comfortable New York life for an orange prison jumpsuit and finds unexpected conflict and camaraderie amidst an eccentric group of inmates.
Based on Piper Kerman's memoir, "Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison," Netflix's original series is an audacious, salacious look at the unseen world of medium security women prisons. 'Weeds' creator Jenji Kohan runs the show, and has built it into another hit for the online subscription service. Pairing this with 'House of Cards' is a powerful reason to coax $8.99 out of people a month.
'Orange is the New Black' excels because in a television landscape dominated by men, it's one of the few shows where the women run things. Not only that, but it features all types of women. It isn't concerned with populating the show with impossibly good-looking people (I'm looking at you CW). Here we're introduced to a slew of female characters that run the gamut. All races, creeds, and sizes are represented. It's something of a new idea, as ridiculous as that sounds. 'Orange is the New Black' is one of the most diverse TV series out there. It embraces its diversity and uses it as a strength.
We begin our story with Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) surrendering herself to authorities. Backstories are pieced together through 'Lost'-style flashbacks, sans Michael Giacchino's ear-splitting score. We soon learn that at some point in her life Piper participated in hauling drug money on international flights with her girlfriend Alex (Laura Prepon). Now Piper faces a 15-month stint in the penitentiary. An unassuming, white suburban girl who has no idea what she's in for, Piper's childish naivety through the first half-dozen episodes is what makes the show so charming. She's completely out of her depth once she's thrown in with the general population. Though, this isn't 'Oz.' The women are, indeed, much nicer than the male populations of other prison shows. That's for sure.
Kohan and her writing team gradually introduce us to the inhabitants of Piper's new digs. Like 'Lost', each episode is character-specific. While we're always learning a little here and there about Piper's past, every episode we get a look at the past lives of the inmates surrounding her and what they did to put them there. You really have to buy into this premise if you're going to enjoy the show. The first few episodes feel a little like they're treading water. Be patient though. After the ground rules are established, the past lives of these characters begin intertwining with the present day. It's rather exciting once everything starts moving along.
The real liveliness of the show comes from the bubbly, energetic surrounding cast of characters. How Piper interacts with them. How she figures out what makes them tick, and how she breaks down their barriers is some of the many delights of this show. Just as much fun is the story of Piper's boyfriend, Larry (Jason Biggs), who is trying to kill time until she gets out. We could go through each and every inmate, but it's more fun just to meet them on your own. Oh, and then there's the prison guards who run the spectrum,from sleazy to genuinely nice.
In a lot of ways it's a lot like 'Weeds'. Characters are hard to pin down. The story arcs kind of just ebb and flow as the show meanders along. You get the sense that there's an endgame, but as the show keeps getting renewed you wonder if they'll start dragging it out. Whatever happens, suffice it to say 'Orange is the New Black' is a worthwhile show. One that you should probably be watching if you aren't.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate has released 'Orange is the New Black' in a 3-disc set. Each disc is 50GB. They're all housed in a standard keepcase, each disc with its own hub. There's also a Digital Copy code provided.
Filmed digitally, the 1080p presentation of 'Orange is the New Black' is fairly cinematic looking when all is said and done. Sure, there are some signs of its digital roots, but most of the results are immaculately rendered, providing some pristine imagery, even if the whole show is filmed under the crappy fluorescent lighting of prison.
As you may have guessed, the color palette her can only be described as "drab." The flashback scenes offer quite a bit of color. Though, whenever we're in the prison it's all gray, beige, and white. Detail is where the presentation really shines though. Close-ups are replete with all sorts of fine detail that you'd only be able to make out in high-def. Everything from Piper's unruly hair to the sterile texture of the prison uniforms, can be seen easily.
Where the show suffers a little is in the darker scenes. Blacks aren't as deep as they could be. Detail and objects get lost in some crushing shadows. I did notice a few instances of banding too, not many though. While these complaints are pretty minimal, it does knock the score down a peg.
So, this is a Lionsgate release. They usually package anything they release with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix. Even 'Nurse Jackie' is a 7.1 mix, and if there's a show that doesn't need that type of mix it's 'Nurse Jackie.' So, it's strange that 'Orange is the New Black' is only mixed with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. I would've thought Lionsgate would've kept the 7.1 thing going, since it's been going this long regardless of the release. I actually think a full-bodied 7.1 mix would be a strength here.
The prison is full of all sorts of activity. Inmates assembling, announcements blaring through distant speakers, guards yelling at people; it's all very bust. As it is the 5.1 mix handles all that extraneous ambient sound with ease. The rear channels harness a lot of the prison activity, adding a nice enveloping feel to the proceedings. Up front is where most of the dialogue comes from. It's always clear and never indecipherable. I do think that the introduction of two extra channels in the mix could have really helped the surround sound experience. However, the 5.1 does just fine with the abundance of sound it's given to work with.
'Orange is the New Black' is a funny, often poignant look at life inside a women's prison. Piper's life is radically changed by her new surroundings, and it's immensely enjoyable trying to watch her adapt and evolve, all the while trying not to get hurt or killed. The Blu-ray release has some great video and audio. This is recommended.