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Orange Is the New Black: Season One(TV) (2013)
The story of Piper Chapman, a woman in her thirties who is sentenced to fifteen months in prison after being convicted of a decade-old crime of transporting money for her drug-dealing girlfriend.
For more about Orange Is the New Black: Season One and the Orange Is the New Black: Season One Blu-ray release, see Orange Is the New Black: Season One Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on May 12, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Directors: Michael Trim, Andrew McCarthy, Phil Abraham, Constantine Makris, Jodie Foster, Uta Briesewitz
Writer: Jenji Kohan
Starring: Taylor Schilling, Jason Biggs, Laura Prepon, Kate Mulgrew, Michael Harney, Natasha Lyonne
» See full cast & crew
Orange Is the New Black: Season One Blu-ray Review
Shaken in stir.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, May 12, 2014
What's Jenji Kohan been smoking recently? The force behind the long running Weeds, a series which saw its heroine do a bit of jail time here and there, has now moved on to Orange is the New Black, a series built entirely around a young, well to do woman ending up in the pen due to a long ago peccadillo. Based on the bestselling memoir Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman, the series attempts to forge the same combination of wry humor and convoluted interpersonal relationships that made Weeds so successful. Judging by this first season, Kohan doesn't quite have her mojo working for her, at least in the early going, but the good news is the series gets markedly better as it goes along. Part of the problem is a structural artifice that sees the show repeatedly cutting away from the prison saga to offer background vignettes about various characters. The creative team attempts to knit these segues together smartly, but it's an inherently disruptive approach and one which tends to hobble the narrative arc of the piece. The humor in Orange is the New Black is also (perhaps unimaginably) even drier than Weeds, to the point that some viewers may be wondering if the show is indeed a comedy. It's ironic that President Obama brought the house down at this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner with a joke about how the recalcitrant Republicans had turned on John Boehner, treating him even worse than they have been treating Obama, with Obama scoring big time with the punchline, "I guess orange really is the new black." There's nothing quite as raucously in your face like that going on in the series, but there's a certain undercurrent of uncomfortableness that may appeal to those who like their humor on the low key and often awkward side of things.
Weeds' Nancy Botwin was a character who at least seemed to always be in control, her mental wheels cogitating all sorts of simultaneously possible outcomes in the hopes she could navigate the treacherous waters of her lifestyle. Of course, it was all an illusion, as Kohan and her writing team repeatedly demonstrated throughout that show's long and healthy run. With the slightly renamed Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), Kohan is dealing with a character who has absolutely no control over virtually every aspect of her life, once she's found guilty of an almost forgotten about money running scheme when Piper was a closeted lesbian in the throes of a hot and heavy relationship with drug dealer Alex Vause (Laura Prepon).
Kohan plays with time repeatedly from the first episode of Orange is the New Black, contrasting Piper's regimented and often threatened existence at the penitentiary with several flashback anecdotes capturing her at various points leading up to her present sad state of affairs. We're introduced to her boyfriend and ultimately fiancé Larry Bloom (Jason Biggs), a seemingly nice, normal Jewish guy who calls Piper his shiksa and who rather amazingly doesn't freak out when he finds out about Piper's somewhat questionable past. We also meet Piper's super WASP-y family, who react with typically patrician reserve when they hear of her predicament, offering little bon mots like, "Was that when you were a lesbian?"
The problem with this approach is that it takes several episodes to meet and get to know the main cast of characters, both inside the penitentiary and to a somewhat lesser extent outside. The opening three or so episodes feel anecdotal rather than organic, though things perk up rather quickly once Alex shows up at the same prison (she's been there all along, simply waiting for the suitably chaotic moment in Piper's life to make her new entrance). The best part of the opening set of episodes is probably the introduction and development of Red (Kate Mulgrew), a seemingly hard hearted and ruthless bitch of a woman who is in charge of the kitchen. When Piper makes an ill advised complaint about the food in front of Red, lines are drawn and some unorthodox "food" is served. Mulgrew is absolutely riveting in this completely de-glammed, kind of smarmy but resilient, characterization.
Kohan and the writing team slowly but surely introduce the little groups that make up the strata of cultures in the prison, and critical mass is when we've finally gotten a handle on some of the intrigue surrounding Piper's cellmate Miss Claudette (Michelle Hurst). While Kohan's kind of quasi- Lost ping ponging between "before and after" doesn't always work (and is in fact perhaps a dramatic miscalculation at least some of the time), in Claudette's story there's a clear connection between traumatic past events and present day behaviors.
In other ways, Kohan tends to try to make Orange is the New Black fit into some kind of preordained niche that it really isn't meant to. A number of times overly dramatic situations break out, including a late developing arc involving Red and her hold on both staff and inmates, as well as Piper supposedly coming into her own as a force to be reckoned with. This kind of trite approach may have passing visceral impact and adrenaline raising potential, but it doesn't augur especially well for a more convincing examination, humorous or otherwise, of Piper's crumbling world.
Orange Is the New Black: Season One Blu-ray, Video Quality
Orange is the New Black: The Complete First Season is presented on Blu-ray courtesy or Lionsgate Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. Shot digitally with the Arri Alexa system, the series looks nicely sharp and well detailed in high definition, though the grim prison environments don't really provide a lot of opportunity for significant pop in terms of palette. Occasional scenes seem to have been color graded (or perhaps lit) in odd hues, perhaps to add a kind of fluorescent sheen to some of the interior prison scenes, but there's no significant loss of detail in these moments. Overall, colors look accurate, if kind of bland, and are well saturated. The image is very clear and benefits from consistent contrast. No obvious compression artifacts were noticed in preparation for this review.
Orange Is the New Black: Season One Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Orange is the New Black has a surprisingly immersive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, at least when considering that large swaths of the series take place in the relatively claustrophobic environs of the prison. Noisy rooms like the kitchen or even the shop provide good spatial ambience and placement of sound effects, but even in Piper's cell, the distant echo of other inmates in the offing can add a sense of sonic verisimilitude. Dialogue is presented cleanly and the track has no issues of any kind to mention.
Orange Is the New Black: Season One Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Orange Is the New Black: Season One Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Kohan's slightly skewed sense of humor can be an acquired taste. I know people who think Weeds is one of the greatest shows in recent television history, and others who find it impossibly self-conscious and precious. Those two groups will probably feel pretty much the same about Orange is the New Black, but here there's an additional issue with the storytelling style, which tries to do too much in the early going, threatening to disenchant viewers. Those with a little patience will find the series getting more interesting—and maybe even more darkly funny—once the main characters have been introduced and at least the outlines of their backstories depicted. Orange is the New Black feels like it's still finding its thong-laden feet in this first season, but considering the fact that the real life Kerman didn't spend that much longer than a year in prison to begin with, Death Row may come for this series sooner rather than later. While not perfectly executed (to continue with our prison analogies), Orange is the New Black generates enough interest off of its motley crew of characters, brought vividly to life by a great cast, to come Recommended.
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Orange Is the New Black: Season One Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: May 13-20 - May 11, 2014
For the week of May 13th, Warner Home Entertainment is releasing Spike Jonze's digital romance Her on Blu-ray. Other Tuesday titles include Lionsgate's Season One package for the Netflix original Orange Is the New Black and the final season of the HBO comedy Eastbound ...
• Orange Is the New Black: The Complete First Season Blu-ray - February 19, 2014
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has officially announced that it will release on Blu-ray Orange Is the New Black: The Complete First Season. The release will be available for purchase online and in stores across the nation on May 13th.
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