Friday, September 19, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Orange Is the New Black, season 2 (2014) ****

TV-MA, 13 60+min. episodes
Creator: Jenji Kohan

Directors: Jodie Foster, Michael Trim, Phil Abraham, Andrew McCarthy, Allison Anders, Daisy von Schuler Mayer, S. J. Clarkson, Jennifer Getzinger, Constantine Makris

Writers: Jenji Kohan, Piper Kerman (book), Sian Heder, Tara Herrmann, Lauren Morelli, Nick Jones, Stephen Falk, Sara Hess, Hartley Voss, Alex Regnery

Starring: Taylor Schilling, Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Michael J. Harney, Natasha Lyonne, Taryn Manning, Kate Mulgrew, Jason Biggs, Kimko Glenn, Laverne Cox, Wanda Bell, Lea DeLaria, Joel Marsh Garland, Annie Golden, Diane Guerrero, Selenis Leyva, Matt McGorry, Adrienne C. Moore, Matt Peters, Jessica Pimental, Dascha Polanco, Alysia Reiner, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Nick Sandow, Yael Stone, Lorraine Toussaint, Samira Wiley, Vicky Jeudy, Emma Myles, Jackie Cruz, Maria Dizzia, Beth Fowler, Lin Tucci, Julie Lake, Barbara Rosenblat

Guest starring: Laura Prepon, Deborah Rush, Todd Susman, Lori Petty, Lauren Lapkus, Laura Gomez, Ian Paola, Pat Squire, Abigail Savage, Richard Gallagher, Constance Schulman, Yvette Freeman, Judith Roberts, Dale Soules, Michael Chernus, Tracee Chimo, Ramon Franco, Lori Tan Chin, Sanja Danilovic, Lolita Foster, Mary Looram, Alex Wraith, Nick Stevenson, Peter Rini, Alan R. Rodriguez, Stephanie Andujar, Pablo Schreiber, Germar Terrell Gardner, Ben Konigsberg, Jamie Denbo, Deirdre Lovejoy, Brendon Burke, Bill Hoag, Tanya Wright, Hamilton Clancy, Stephen O’Reilly, Aubrey Sinn, Tiki Barber, Ricky Garcia, Trey Gerrald, Donté Grey

There is really one word that describes the strength of season two of the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black” which sets it apart from its previous season. That word is “Vee.” Of anything that was different about this show from the first season, it was the addition of the character of Vee, played spectacularly by Lorraine Toussaint, that brought it to a new level. Vee added an element to the Litchfield prison that really had been lacking in the first season—a villain.

While OITNB is still primarily about Piper, a white upper crust convict doing time for a mistake she made years ago, the Litchfield Prison universe expanded greatly in its second season with some minor characters becoming major, the guards taking a slightly less active role in the proceedings, and a great focus on many of the black inmates. It was a brilliant move to connect Vee with the rather likable character of Taystee from the beginning. It makes you believe at first that she can’t be all bad, but there isn’t a moment when Vee isn’t playing some angle. That’s what makes her such a good character. She one of those one’s you love to hate.

I also very much enjoyed the focus on two of the somewhat innocuous characters from the background of season one. Miss Rosa Cisneros has been an ever-present character from the start of the series, with her shaved head, obviously fighting cancer from behind bars. In the second season her’s ended up being one of the most interesting back-stories of any so far. She also plays a key role in the development of another endearing character, Yael Stone’s Morello. But, perhaps it was Rosa’s involvement in the fate of Vee that was most satisfying.

The development of Sister Jane Ingalls was also a welcome reprieve from the more intense situations caused by Vee’s presence. I like the sister a lot, and its great to see all the different types of criminals there could possibly be in the prison system. Despite the fact that Brook Soso is probably as annoying to the audience as she is to the people she’s incarcerated with, this positive spirit was another welcome addition to the season.

As always with a very good series, I’m left wondering where they will go with season three. Surely Caputo’s second day as interim warden will lead to some disappointment for him. Well, he wouldn’t be Caputo without disappointment. But beyond that, the show leaves very few threads dangling for its third season. Laura Prepon will be returned to regular status as Alex Voss in season three, and there’s still the whole pregnancy situation between Diaz and Bennett, but there really isn’t a firm threat to the way of life at Litchfield when all is said and done here, so it will be interesting to see what pops up.

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