Nominated for 12 Primetime Emmys and 4 Golden Globes, Orange is the New Black is a fierce and funny series that follows Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) when a crime she committed in her past sends her to an all-women's prison with an unforgettable and irreverent group of fellow inmates. Shocking revelations and new arrivals shake up the lives and relationships of Litchfield's prisoners in this highly anticipated second season.
'House of Cards' thrust Netflix into the forefront of the original programming arms race. However, after faltering in its last season, 'Orange is the New Black' is primed and ready to become Netflix's flagship program. An audience favorite, and critical darling, 'Orange is the New Black' continues its brash brand of storytelling in a stellar second season.
What really sets 'Orange is the New Black' apart from many other episodic TV shows, is its ability to provide a plentiful array of worthwhile roles for women. Easily passing the Bechdel test, the show demonstrates that a show mainly about strong women can indeed be for everyone.
Season two continues with a strong narrative as Piper (Taylor Schilling) finds her troubles escalating after a violent encounter with Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) at the end of season one. Seeing Piper evolve from new prison fish to outright survivalist is one of its most satisfying aspects.
Coming in a close second to Piper's evolution as a character is learning more about her cellmates, their backstories, and what really makes everyone tick. The ensemble cast is one of the best out there. Keeping almost every character engaging and interesting throughout the series is quite the feat. While the writing keeps us involved in their stories, it's the craft of the actresses that creates a bond. The diversity of characters coupled with an increasingly complex web of intertwining storylines creates a rich narrative structure.
Mixing comedy with intentional melodrama is something 'Orange is the New Black' has more or less perfected. Its keen observational humor of life in a woman's prison is juxtaposed with the truly emotional scenes where characters find themselves dealing with pretty heavy existential problems. We have the outrageous subplots where Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) and Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) have a contest to see who can have sex with the most women in the prison. Contrast that seemingly benign storyline with the crucially dramatic escalation of the rivalry between Vee (Lorraine Toussaint) and Red (Kate Mulgrew) and you've got yourself a well-rounded series that knows how to balance the light and heavy simultaneously.
While the main cog in the story's machine is – and will always be Piper – 'Orange is the New Black' has done and expert job in crafting a world with a multitude of characters to care about. The side characters seem just as important, require just as much emotional investment, and provide narrative payoffs time and time again.
Getting too far into the various plotlines of season two would spoil it. Fans of the show know just how good it can be, and season two doesn't let up at all. It's still committed to its memorable characters, it doubles down on their prison plight, and forces us to question what we would do if we were in the situation Piper finds herself.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a 3-disc Blu-ray set that comes complete with an UltraViolet Digital Copy. The discs are packed in a standard keepcase that comes with a cardboard slipcover. An insert with an episode list featuring writing/directing credits and episode synopses is also included.
Lionsgate's 1080p transfer of 'Orange is the New Black' is just as sharp and detailed as its freshman outing. Depending on your streaming capabilities the quality of the show varies. However, on Blu-ray it's a steady stream of excellent visuals.
The show is shot digitally, but it doesn't really harbor any of the inherent flatness that many digital shoots seem to take on. The depth here is nice. Some noise may crop up at times in the darker spots of a shot. Overall, though, shadows are nicely defined.
Color is full and vibrant even though the show takes place mostly under the unforgiving florescent lighting of prison. Detail is great, from the nicks and dings on the prison bars to the tiniest facial features. Just about everything is visible. If you were impressed by the first season's video presentation, then this one will leave you just as happy.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is also quite strong and impressive given the constraints of the show. Though one might wish that Lionsgate would give 'Orange is the New Black' the 'Nurse Jackie' treatment and up that to a 7.1 mix. However, that's a minor quibble. In reality the 5.1 mix here sounds great, has depth, and provides more detail in the sound field than you might have thought possible give the talk-heavy nature.
Music is delivered through each channel, giving the soundtrack a forceful presence. The center channel is home to most of the dialogue, and it comes out as clear as you'd expect. The front channels handle the whipping directionality of voices very well. With so many characters it's crucial that the sound place them exactly where they're speaking from within the frame. This mix does that quite well.
Echoes are nicely prioritized here. The prison echoes quite a bit and it travels around the soundscape nicely. There aren't many quibbles I have with the audio mix at all. It's just as satisfying as season one's.
Audio Commentaries – There are commentaries for two episodes: “Hugs Can Be Deceiving” and “You Also Have a Pizza.” These pretty good commentaries simply because a lot of the cast is involved. Both commentaries feature Danielle Brooks (Taystee), Adrienne C. Moore (Cindy Hayes), Samira Wiley (Poussey), Uzo Aduba (Crazy Eyes), and Vicky Jeudy (Janae Watson).
Back Before the Potato Sack (HD, 15 min.) – This is a pretty in-depth look at how the show deals with backstories and their way of showing them.
Orange Peeled (HD, 16 min.) – This is a writing team-centric feature showing how they work.
A Walk Around the Block (HD, 7 min.) – Real-life Piper Kerman and production designer Michael Shaw talk about the show's sets, production design, and take us on a tour.
The Vee.I.P Treatment (HD, 11 min.) – A lengthy character profile of one of the crazier characters on the show.
'Orange is the New Black: Season 2' is every bit as strong as season one. It's frequently funny, often times effectively dramatic, and has one of the best casts around. There's nothing to not like about it. One wonders how long they plan on drawing out the series, but I'll watch as long as they do. With strong video and audio this is a recommended release.