Tag Archives: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black Season 6 Review

Starring Taylor Schilling, Natasha Lyonne, Danielle Brooks, Selenis Leyva, Nick Sandow and Kate Mulgrew.

Warning: Minor Plot Spoilers follow for Season 6. Major Spoilers for Season 5.

Season 5 got mixed reviews. I personally loved it, but I can see why some thought it got too fan-service-y in places. Even it detractors have to admit the riot made for compelling viewing. But there were always going to be consequences. The first half of S6 is all about those consequences, and the two key themes of the season are betrayal and redemption.

The opening episodes see the feds out to pin the blame for both the riot and Humphrey and Piscatella’s deaths on at least 5 of the inmates, which leads to a lot of backstabbing and mud-slinging as the various inmates try to save themselves or settle old scores. Some betrayals you really won’t see coming, others are what season 5 was all building up to. The remaining episodes deal with the consequences, as the inmates in question seek revenge, struggle with guilt or fear retribution.

While most of the regulars are back this season, a lot of familiar faces are missing (because they were put in a different prison, while we follow the ones sent to Litchfield Max). Characters like Big Boo and Helen get mere cameos, while ones like Watson, Norma and Chang are entirely absent. A third of the guards from last season are gone too, though Dixon, Luschek, Donuts and McCullough are all back to some extent.

There are various new characters too, both prisoners and guards, some of whom are more memorable than others. The main plot of the season sees the inmates caught up in the tension between C-block and D-block in Maximum Security, driven by a long-standing feud between sisters Carol and Barbara, who are the two major players in Max. Other newbies include their enforcers, Badison (who might just be the nastiest piece of work OITNB has given us) and Daddy (who strikes up a surprisingly sweet relationship with one of the series regulars). The new guards are similarly hit-and-miss, but chief Hopper, Luschek and McCullough’s arcs make up for the less interesting ones.

Things feel a lot more tense this season – the very nature of Max has you constantly worried that someone is about to get shivved or beaten up (both of which happen) while some of the guards are beyond brutal in how they treat Daya and the riot leaders. Orange is the New Black has always been good at mixing humour and drama with the darker side of prison life, and that balance remains as compelling as ever here. If had to criticise, the central conflict between the blocks peters out a bit too much, and there’s no shocks here up there with Poussey or Piscatella’s deaths, but the season as a whole is still pretty great viewing regardless.

The humour is still on point, with highlights including Flaca and Black Cindy teaming up as the new prison radio hosts and Suzanne and Freida becoming cellmates. While most of the romance focus is on Piper and Alex, there are several other compelling pairings throughout the season (including a somewhat unlikely love triangle involving Luschek and two of the prisoners, as well as the conclusion of the Doggett/Donuts arc). Surprisingly the best pairing of the season is Caputo and Fig, who’s relationship plays a much bigger part in the story than you might expect.

Meanwhile it’s Red, Taystee, Daya and Ruiz who get the lion’s share of the drama side of things. The flashbacks remain mostly interesting – Freida’s is arguably the most important, though its Nicky and Cindy’s snapshots that will probably leave a lasting impression. The majority of flashbacks tend to focus on the new characters rather than existing ones, but this was pretty inevitable given the number of cast changes this season.

Overall, I wouldn’t say this is OITNB’s best season, but its a damn good one, even if the finale lacks the punch of recent seasons. Focusing in on a smaller section of the cast seemed to work well, but the quality of the newcomers varied. The show still remains the best Netflix has to offer though.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

 

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Top 10 TV Episodes of 2017

Rather than my usual top TV shows, I decided to do a top 10 episodes. This was for several reasons: firstly, a lot of my favourite shows have underperformed this year (House of Cards, Doctor Who, The Americans, The Flash), and a top 4 shows would be about the best I could manage, and secondly because many of those shows still had terrific episodes even if the overall season was a bit of a let-down. So without further ado, here’s my TV picks from 2017.

I’ve made any spoilers as minor as possible, but pretty much everything referenced here was either in trailers or has been general knowledge for at least 6 months.

10. World Enough and Time (Doctor Who, Series 10) Series 10 may have been a weak run for Doctor Who, but Steven Moffat’s writing, Capaldi and Mackie’s acting and Rachel Talalay’s direction was flawless throughout. World Enough and Time is up their with Moffat’s best: a dark, creepy haunting tale set on a spaceship stuck orbiting a black hole, causing time to run faster at one end than the other. Throw Missy, a classic monster and another returning (disguised) villain into the mix and you have a classic in the making. If only so much of it hadn’t been spoiled beforehand, this episode might have been a lot further up my list.

9. Season Finale (Robot Wars UK) The last series of Robot Wars had 1 or 2 duff episodes, but the finale was so spectacular that it has to get a place in my top 10. The ten way Robot Rumble to decide who got the coveted sixth spot in the final was perhaps the best 5 minutes of television this series has ever produced, and the sheer chaos of it all was wonderful to behold. The final rounds themselves weren’t bad either – with several surprises as Defending Champions Carbide were placed under extreme pressure and a few no-hopers (Nuts 2) actually acquitted themselves rather well.

8. Beyond the Wall (Game of Thrones, Season 7) Game of Thrones seventh season may have thrown out the careful plotting a bit too much for some fans, but the sheer spectacle of the thing and the wonderful array of character interactions (some we’d waited years to see) still made it insanely compelling viewing. This episode, where Jon Snow and a band of followers including the Brotherhood without banners, The Hound, Tormund, Jorah and Gendry, all venture North of the Wall to search for proof of the White Walkers existence, is on a scale worthy of Lord of the Rings. To say any more would spoil what’s so great about it, but the soundtrack, direction and spectacle were all second to none, even if the resolution is somewhat ludicrous.

7. The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (Gotham, Season 3) Gotham’s not had a great year by all accounts. While we’ve had several great villains truly come to the fore (Riddler, Ra’s al Ghul, Professor Pyg) there’s been too much slow-burning about Gotham, and too many characters have got short-shift. But every so often, the show delivers a real gem, and that’s exactly what we got in this, the third part of a trilogy marking Jerome’s return in season 3. Seeing teenage Bruce Wayne face off with the man Gotham fans are 99% sure is the future Joker was stunning television, and the whole Riddler-Penguin civil war wasn’t a bad B-Plot either. It has a lot of great Bruce and Jerome moments that I won’t spoil, and one hell of a cliffhanger too.

6. The Dragon and the Wolf (Game of Thrones, Season 7) Remember what I said about character interactions? Well the finale had a truck full of them. Whether it was the Hound and Brienne coming face-to-face again, Jon Snow and Daenerys finally meeting Cersei or Jaime finally, FINALLY seeing Cersei’s true colours, it was epic. Littlefinger’s plotline was a punch the air moment for every fan watching, and the final scene with the White Walkers sets up season 8 perfectly. A great finale, if not quite the best episode of the season…

5. Doomworld (Legends of Tomorrow, Season 2) – I would never have expected Legends of Tomorrow, the most ridiculous Superhero Show on TV (featuring time-travel, aliens, mythology etc.) to also have been the best and most consistent one in 2017. But it was. Mainly because of its amazing season 2 plotline, which saw the superhero ensemble face-off with the Legion of Doom (featuring the Reverse-Flash, Dark Archer, Damien Darhk and Captain Cold – aka four of the Arrowverse’s best villains). Doomworld gave us a look at a future where the villains actually won, a rarity on any superhero show, and was a fabulous hour full of redemption stories, villainous one-liners and a kick-ass final battle scene. If season 3 lives up to this standard I won’t be complaining much.

4. Infantino Street (The Flash, Season 3) I’ll be honest, the Flash’s third season was terrible. The main plot didn’t work well and it largely squandered any goodwill left over from the excellent first one and a half seasons. Infantino Street was its sole knockout hit, the penultimate episode of the season, which featured both the return of fan-favourite Leonard Snart and had the villainous Savitar finally delivering on his potential. The ending scene is up their with the best Flash cliffhangers (and there are A LOT of good ones). Pity the producers ruined everything in the season finale, but in my view that doesn’t diminish this classic instalment. Let’s hope season 4 has more episodes like this.

3. Storm-y Weather (Orange is the New Black, Season 5) Orange is the New Black’s status as one of the all-time great Netflix shows remains untarnished (unlike House of Cards, for various reasons), and season five continuing the trend of a series that has actually got better year on year (how many shows can say that?!). Set over 3 days rather than several weeks a la previous series, season 5 gave us a gripping depiction of a prison riot and what happens when the inmates turn the tables on the awful prison officers. This episode (the finale) finally forced the prisoners (and bastard guardsman Piscatella) to face up to their actions and face the consequences. Filled with emotional performances, it confirms that this series really does have longeveity. The use of the ‘To Build a Home’ song over the last 5 mins really was something beautiful too.

2. Lian Yu (Arrow, Season 5) – Season Five finally broke the norm for Arrow finales (i.e. a yearly attack on Star City) and instead presented a much more personal, visceral conflict between Oliver Queen and Prometheus, leading to a monumental battle between both sides (including the whole of team Arrow, Black Siren and several recurring fan favourites). Even the flashbacks were great, as Oliver faced off with a brutal Russian terrorist (played menacingly by Dolph Lungren). Throw in a spectacular cliffhanger and this was by miles the best episode Arrow’s given us since Deathstroke unleashed his army in season 2. A truly terrific finale.

1. The Spoils of War (Game of Thrones, Season 7) – It had to be really. The Spoils of War is a contender for best Thrones episode of all time. It contains a lot of fan-favourite moments and a truly awesome battle scene. Arya training with Brienne is just the icing on the cake. The finale builds and builds to something truly special as we finally see just what those Dragons are really capable of… A masterpiece, and the best episode of TV I’ve seen in a long time.

And here’s my TV Awards for 2017

Best Actress: Melissa Benoist (Supergirl)
Best Actor: Nikolau Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister, Game of Thrones)
Best Supporting Actress: Michelle Gomez (Missy, Doctor Who)
Best Supporting Actor: Wentworth Miller (Snart, The Flash/Legends of Tomorrow)
Best TV Show: Game of Thrones/Orange is the New Black
Best Script: Steven Moffat (World Enough and Time, Doctor Who)
Best Director: Rachel Talalay (World Enough and Time, Doctor Who)
Best Special Effects: USS Callister (Black Mirror)
Best Composer: Blake Neely (Arrow, Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow)
Best Villain(s): The Legion of Doom (Legends of Tomorrow)
Best Hero: Jon Snow (Game of Thrones)
Worst Actress: Sonequa Martin-Green (Star Trek Discovery)
Worst Actor: Doug Jones (Star Trek Discovery)
Worst Director: Charles Palmer (Oxygen, Doctor Who)
Worst TV Show: Star Trek Discovery
Worst Script: Aaron Helbing and Todd Helbing (Finish Line, The Flash)

My Top TV shows of 2015

Everyone else on review sites does a top 10 this time of year, I don’t watch enough shows to do that justice, so here’s my top 5. If your favourite shows like Downton Abbey or the Walking Dead aren’t on here, its probably because I haven’t watched them.

If I’d done this last year for TV in 2014, the order would have been 5: Homeland Season 4, 4: House of Cards Season 2, 3: Game of Thrones Season 4, 2: Doctor Who Series 8, 1: Arrow Season 2. What a difference a year makes…

I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, but there might be some minor ones in here (only minor plot details though, no character deaths have been mentioned) so warning: Minor Spoilers.

5. Orange is the New Black Season 3: While House of Cards is normally my Netflix go-to, Orange is the New Black’s third season was everything I wanted from the show, while House of Cards made a couple of small missteps that means it isn’t on my list this year. Dispensing with the villain driven plotline from season 2 (much to my relief as that got a bit wearing) it refocused on Piper and Alex, while throwing new character Stella (Ruby Rose) into the mix to create a love-triangle (though a more interesting one than Larry-Piper-Alex was in season 1). Background characters like Caputo, Nora and Pennsatucky really came to the fore this season, while we got some hilarious plotlines like Piper setting up a covert used panty business for online weirdos and Crazy Eyes writing sci-fi based erotica that becomes a hit amongst the prisoners and some of the guards. Can’t wait for season 4!

4. Game of Thrones Season 5: It might have been Thrones weakest season since season 2, but people were unduly harsh on Season 5. Based on two of the slowest books in the saga (including Feast of Crows, which is almost indisputably the worst GOT book), it did (in my view) a fine job of condensing two novels into 10 episodes, and gave us the stunning Hardhome battle sequence in the bargain. The Jon Snow storyline never put a foot wrong, Tyrion and Daenerys meeting was a delight, while Stannis and Sansa’s storylines contained some surprises even book readers weren’t prepared for. Yes the sand snakes were disappointing and Arya’s storyline didn’t really go anywhere, but overall I liked this season, even if it wasn’t the show at its best.

3. The Americans Season 3: Arguably the most consistent show on TV, it’s hard to name a bad episode of spy drama the Americans. For those of you unaware it focuses in on two soviet spies who have integrated into US society in the 1980’s, whose neighbours, co-workers and kids are unaware of their true nature. Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are excellent as the couple in question, who have to wrestle with several new problems this season: the prospect of revealing their true identities to their increasingly suspicious teenage daughter Paige, one of their informants realising their identity, Elizabeth (Russell) being told her mother back in Russia is dying and Philip (Rhys) grappling with an assignment to seduce the teenage daughter of a CIA director, which he is in no way comfortable doing. Its a very morally grey show (as you are essentially rooting for the bad guys even if they believe what they are doing is right) that continues to please.

2. The Flash (Season 1, Part 2/Season 2 Part 1): Overshadowing its parent show in its first year? Impressive. Yes Arrow was suffering from its weakest series (though it has since improved), but Flash blew it out of the water, and has been the better of the two throughout two half series late this year as well. It’s core cast of Barry, Cisco, Joe and Caitlin work exceedingly well together, and while it was touch and go for a while season 2 has managed to prevent Iris becoming another Laurel and has massively improved her character. It’s had some great villains (which Arrow was lacking till Damien Darhk showed up) backed some terrific performances from Tom Cavanagh (Harrison Wells), Wentworth Miller (Captain Cold), Liam McIntyre (Weather Wizard) and best of all, Mark Hamill (The Trickster). Can’t wait till it restarts in January.

1. Doctor Who Series 9: Out of the 9 shows that were in contention for this list, this is the only British one, and I was glad to see how well it did this year. The best series of the show since its revival (and hence possibly its strongest ever) series 9 had no misfires and a marvellous 3 part finale, including Heaven Sent, which may just be one of the best episodes in the series 52 year history. For every episode, I know someone who would argue it was the highlight of the series (or at least the 2nd best after Heaven Sent!). Capaldi and Coleman were fabulous throughout, with the various directors, showrunner Moffat and composer Murray Gold all delivering as well. As for guest stars, the highlight has to be Maisie Williams. I’ve devoted a few articles to this show so I won’t go into too much more detail, but for me, series 9 was an absolute knockout!

Honourable mentions go to House of Cards, Arrow, Gotham and Homeland, which all narrowly missed out, though I enjoyed watching all of them.

I won’t do a top 5 films (I haven’t seen enough of them this year to really judge) though Force Awakens, Mockingjay Part 2, Spectre, Jurassic World and Ant-Man would have all been in contention. I might do a top 5 games, I’ll see how easy it is to write one.

 

Review: Orange is the New Black, Season 3

Orange is the New Black, starring Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon and Kate Mulgrew

Warning: Spoilers for seasons 1-3

One of the three major shows on Netflix (along with House of Cards and Breaking Bad), Orange is the New Black is notable as being one of the few shows on TV with an almost entirely female led cast – apart from a few of the guards and the odd husband/boyfriend, men don’t have much prominence save in a few flashbacks. But this isn’t a bad thing, and the show has arguably one of the best casts on TV, with seldom a weak performance. And, no, this isn’t just a show for women, I’d recommend guys watch it as well.

Is it a comedy or a drama (or a softcore lesbian film)? To be honest, it can be all three of these, and the fact the show is hard to define isn’t a bad thing. Season 3 has the most split focus of the 3 seasons so far, with multiple subplots rather than one overriding plotline – but I thought this was a big improvement (unlike those reviewers over at Den of Geek – who pissed me off criticising this season to the extent I’m now reviewing it just to voice my disagreement). Season 1 was mainly based on how the privileged Piper Chapman (Schilling) adjusted to living in prison for the first time, and her relationship with Alex (Prepon) a lesbian ex-lover who grassed up Chapman to the police for her involvement in a drug ring Alex ran. Season 2 expanded things a bit, with new prison inmate Vee being the focus as the most despicable villain this show has delivered so far, while Chapman dealt with the breakdown of her relationship with her fiancée Larry on the outside, as well as loneliness after Alex got released.

Season 3 is a different beast – with the three main villains of season 1 and 2 (the perverted prison guard Mendez, the inmate Vee and corrupt prison boss Natalie) gone or limited to cameos, the show spends more time on its supporting cast – even the minor characters like Chang and Norma, who had little to do in seasons 1 and 2, get flashbacks in 3 which enrich their characters.

The major subplots? There’s a religious cult that develops around Norma, one of the inmates who despite being mute has a natural ability to connect with and sooth other inmates, which provides its share of both drama and ludricous comedy, but manages to avoid repeating season 1’s fanatical christian plotline. Joe Caputo, the prison manager, becomes a key player this season as he struggles to keep the prison open, appease his staff and the new management and remain ‘the good guy’ he has been striving to be all his life – probably the most cohesive plot arc of the season. The funniest plot without doubt had to be ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren writing overtly sexual sci-fi fiction which becomes a hit among both the prisoners and a few of the guards, and redeemed crazy eyes in my opinion after I grew to hate her due to her association with Vee in season 2. The fake conversion of the black prisoners to Judaism in order to get the superior Kosher meals also provides plenty of laughs, while their adoption of prisoner outcast Soso in the final episode was heartwarming (and will hopefully make Soso a less annoying character in season 4). Pennsatucky and Big Boo are also a surprisingly affecting odd-couple friendship, and Pennsatucky herself has gone from one of the main antagonists in season 1 to one of the most likeable characters in season 3 – it’s amazing what the right pairing and a few flashbacks can do.

As for Piper, after ensuring Alex got re-arrested at the end of season 2, here they resume their twisted yet loveable relationship (now even, having both screwed each other over – both literally and figuratively) but there’s a few new elements in the mix: Alex’s new paranoia that her former drug boss is out to murder her for betraying him, Piper’s new enterprise which involves selling prisoners’ used panties to online perverts for profit (surely both the weirdest and the funniest idea OITNB has ever come up with!) and Stella (Ruby Rose) a new inmate who catches Piper’s eye (and that of most of the viewers judging by the comments i’ve seen!). This new love triangle isn’t as wearisome as the Larry-Piper-Alex one in season 1, and Piper is far less annoying than in previous seasons as her character becomes both colder and more ruthless – a welcome change from the insecure mess she occasionally became in earlier episodes.

Overall, season 3 is definitely my favourite of the 3 so far, the comedy is at its apex and the drama took a step back after getting slightly too dark last season, and Piper and various other characters have become much more likeable.

Season Rating: 4.5 out of 5.