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'OITNB' continues with terrific ensemble performances in second season

The second season of the Netflix original series "Orange is the New Black" picks up where season one left off with terrific ensemble performances and storylines.
The second season of the Netflix original series "Orange is the New Black" picks up where season one left off with terrific ensemble performances and storylines.
Netflix

"Orange is the New Black" Season 2

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Netflix’s original series “Orange is the New Black” picked right up where it left off in season one for its second season, added to the online streaming service in June.

Some critics and fans of the series felt the show suffered through at least a slight sophomore slump, but I think it’s remained true to itself in that it continues to be a terrific ensemble show featuring great performances and storylines, while continuing to switch effortlessly between current day action and flashbacks.

Any feelings of a series slump are likely from those fans who simply tire of shows too easily or from those not adequately comprehending the series via bingewatching it too quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I watched the second season in just two weeks, which I consider to be bingewatching, but some choose to watch the entire season in just a day or two. This way of watching television simply can’t be very beneficial to remembering or even really enjoying a series.

There’s really no need to recap or review an entire 13-episode season, so I’ll just hit the highlights.

One of the most interesting (and best) episodes of the season was its premiere, which is the most unusual and different episode of the entire series simply because it only focuses on the series’ main character Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling). I thought this was a brave decision by the show’s creator and writer Jenji Kohan, because the most important aspect to the series is its ensemble and all of the unique stories interwoven at the women’s prison.

The second episode of the season is the only one thus far of the series to not feature Piper, so it was nice to see an entire episode dedicated to the rest of the cast, as well.

Two new characters were added to the series in season two. One that played an integral role in the entire season, Vee Parker (Lorraine Toussaint), and one that seemed to really serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever, Brook Soso (Kimiko Glenn).

The character of Vee was interesting and infuriating at the same time because she played such an important role over the arc of the season, but also played the season’s villain and not one that you really learn to love (like George “Pornstache” Mendez, played by Pablo Schreiber, in the first season). Vee is tough, ruthless and highly manipulative and basically become the leader of the prison’s black gang. She’s also a returning inmate who has a violent history with Red Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew). The rivalry and relationship between Vee and Red is one of the true highlights of the season.

Many of the show’s main characters from the first season pick off where they left off with interesting and unique storylines like Piper, Red, Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (Uzo Aduba) and Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne), but one of my favorite aspects of the second season is that we get interesting performances and backstories from some of the characters that didn’t get as much screen-time in season one like Taystee (Danielle Brooks), Poussey (Samira Wiley) and Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat).

At the same time there were interesting characters like Laverne Cox’s transgender hairdresser Sophia who seemed to be completely ignored or lost for the entire season.

Two more terrific performances from the cast came from the prison staff with Michael J. Harney’s performance as prison counselor Sam Healy, a man who means well most of the time, but also deals with terrible anger issues, and Nick Sandow as administrative official Joe Caputo, who’s reveal as a bass player in a bar band called “Side Boob” is one of the funniest bits of the season.

My biggest complaint as far as the prison staff goes is that the season terribly under uses Schreiber’s “Pornstache,” who was one of the most memorable characters of the first season, but that’s to be understood as he was put on leave of absence after his transgressions with inmate Daya Diaz (Dascha Polanco) at the end of the first season.

“Orange is the New Black” remains incredibly strong throughout its sophomore season, but it’ll be interesting to see how the show continues into the future, as certain characters seem like they’re usefulness is over (Larry and Polly) and there are really only so many characters who we’d like to see backstories from; although I definitely wouldn’t mind expanded backstories from certain repeat characters. It’ll also be interesting to see how the show handles the arrival and departures of new characters going forward. If the new characters are like Vee (although perhaps with slightly less important roles) the series should be fine. If it keeps up with pointless additions like Soso, we’d be better off without.

One thing is for certain … it’s going to be a long year before season three comes to Netflix, which is just another reason why there’s really no use in bingewatching.