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Orange Is the New Black confirms: Netflix is the new HBO

The first thing I liked about Orange Is the New Black is that it premiered on a dull summer Thursday.

While weekends get busy in the summer, so much of the television goes away during the week (that’s the only real explanation I have for why I’m still watching Under the Dome). So on a pure consumer level, this television junky was thrilled by Netflix (s NFLX) debuting 13 meaty new episodes of an intriguing prison drama this week.

And in many respects, Orange is proving to be a perfect solution to the drought of quality content available this month on both digital and traditional platforms. I watched the show over the past few days, admittedly at a much slower pace than usual, but even still got sucked into the story of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a newly convicted resident of the federal penitentiary system.

Orange represents an interesting cross between the distinctive styles of House of Cardstraditional serialized storytelling — and Arrested Development Season 4 — which is a Russian doll of flashbacks and interwoven events.

The show, created by Weeds showrunner Jenji Kohan, chronicles Chapman and the eclectic ensemble cast’s coping with prison life, but makes heavy use of flashbacks to shed light on how many of the inmates came to be institutionalized. Other scenes flesh out Chapman’s life prior to conviction, and between those reveals, the peeks into the lives of others and the main storyline taking place within prison walls, the end result is both linear narrative and rich tapestry.

The format has invited comparisons to the ABC series Lost, the difference being that while Lost overused its flashbacks and rarely shed much real light on the characters, there’s seasons worth of back story left in Orange.

The only main flaw of the experience came every time a new episode started — as visually gripping as the opening sequence is, you can only listen to a Regina Spektor song so many times in a row; skipping forward to timecode 1:13 or so became habit for me by Episode 6.

It’s been said before, but it’s worth saying again: If Netflix is building its future on binge-viewing, it really needs to address a clean solution for those who wish to skip past the opening sequences.

Those who might wonder about Orange, know that the show’s quality is solid — while the cast doesn’t include any Oscar winners, there are plenty of non-unknowns in the game, including Jason Biggs, Taryn Manning, Natasha Lyonne, Laura Prepon and the amazing Kate Mulgrew as Red, who could easily be a stereotype of a character (tough Russian mobster turned tough Russian prison cook) but is a surprisingly vulnerable presence.

Not only is the show strong (so strong that Netflix has already renewed it for a second season), Orange is the New Black represents a major milestone for the service: Previous show releases have been major events, and the channel has used the novelty of premiering original content in bulk to drive press coverage and audience attention.

Now, however, Netflix seems to be seguing to a new phase of its operation — where subscribers can just come to expect, on a semi-regular basis, the launch of new great shows. Orange is the fourth series to launch on the service in 2013 — none other, aside from the animated content being produced by Dreamworks, have been announced.

Which is frankly disappointing; with the exception of Hemlock Grove (which currently has a 44 percent rating on Metacritic), Netflix has set an impressive bar for high-quality original series over the last six months.

Similarly to the golden age of HBO, where the end of The Sopranos meant the return of Six Feet Under, followed by a new season of The Wire, the steady stream of new, unique and intriguing series we’ve been getting from Netflix has created a new, and quite welcome, tradition of potentially award-worthy programming.

Here’s the highest compliment I can pay: Other Netflix series have left me excited for more Kevin Spacey political scheming or Bluth family antics. But Orange is the first time that I’ve finished watching a show and been excited about what Netflix might release next.

28 Responses to “Orange Is the New Black confirms: Netflix is the new HBO”

  1. Frenchseashell

    I do not agree with Patrickl. Netflix’s list for streaming is dismal. Mostly grade B clunkers. Every time I want something to see I get the ubiquitous “not available for streaming.” What, I can’t get Thelma and Louise? or Priceless? or The Sopranos???? or any number of popular movies that are really worth a second or even a third viewing. Better yet, go to Amazon and click on Movies, and you’ll get a smorgasborg of classics. Having said that, I’m hooked on Orange is the new Black. I’ve only seen two episodes so far, and It’s addictive, riveting and multifaceted, and the lead character is the funniest one I’ve seen since Goldie Hawn’s character in Private Benjamin. Chapman will get through this. Drumroll for Netflix on this one.

  2. Robert Axelrod

    Sorry that you don’t appreciate the musical genius of Regina Spektor…. For all those tired of tone deaf singers who tell us over and over how much they ‘heart’ their newest hookup she is a breath of fresh air…

  3. One nit: Red was not a tough Russian mobster. She was a tough cook, whose restaurant and husband got in trouble with some tough Russian mobsters. There’s a difference.

  4. If netflix can continue its series I would be all for it but if they are gonna continue to leave you on cliff hangers all the time then why bother…
    I have also watched HemLock and Endgame and its all the same great watch but not continuation…I hate the hype that brings me off my feet only to be dropped on my head a few episodes later!
    As far a s opening credits who cares its commercials that piss me off, I’m more then happy that all i have to do is skip a few seconds ahead…

  5. patrickl

    Possibly Liz Miller did not write the summary of this story, but to describe the rest of Netflix as “just an online repository of B movies” is ignorant. Not only are 90% of the great A movies of the past there, but an amazing quantity of rare movies available nowhere else. For students and enthusiasts of film and popular culture, Netflix serves the function similar to a newspaper of record. People in the film industry use it for research. Families recall the past with it. Netflix allows the movies that are milestones in our lives to always be with us. Just because this aspect of the service doesn’t get tweeted about and may not generate huge cash doesn’t mean it has no value. Keep that in mind, even if your name is “Paid” Content.

  6. I watched the first episode and I won’t be watching another. The storyline was great, I can just do without the nudity, language and the tampon sandwich. Bleh.

    • Greg Flowers

      well for one… its a prison show… and trust me prisons aren’t g rated.. that was bleh but it cant get any closer to the facts of prison life than this… I enjoyed the show and there is a fast forward also but for future reference if you don’t like all that if it says jail or prison on it then obviously it is hard to make g rated and just use common since instead of complaining about something you have no idea about

  7. Darlene Scott

    You don’t need Oscar winners to produce a great show. I`m addicted. I love the Netflix series, you can’t compare to cable or movies. Do you know why, No commercials! It’s ridiculous, we pay SO MUCH for a Service and than we forced to watch commercials. There’s commercials on ON DEMAND. Keep it coming Netflix!

  8. realjjj

    Exclusive content is a bad deal for the consumer and even more so when the service is subscription based and you can’t get the 1 item otherwise. It’s not something new but it doesn’t mean we should just accept it. Each work is a monopoly and yet regulators are not treating media as such and the copyright laws make things much worse.
    So pretty hard to be happy seeing that media distribution on the internet is this messed up.
    We’ll never have one place to get everything .The service providers have to spend a lot on getting exclusive content and the consumer ends up having to pay for multiple subscriptions and each costs more than it should.

    • althomas39

      I disagree entirely. There used to be “one place to get everything.” Cable. And look what happened to that. Now we pay $100 a month to get the channels we WANT, while subsidizing channels we DON’T want with our outrageous subscription costs. For people like me and most of my friends, TV watching habits have boiled down to a few channels at most. If I could get a subscription based service for each of the channels I want (FX, AMC, and a sports channel or two) plus Netflix and/or Hulu and HBO, I would almost certainly come out on top and I wouldn’t be spending money on Lifetime, HGTV, Logo, etc.

      The monopoly problem isn’t Netflix’s, it’s cable, where I have to buy the 210+ channel package to get the 4 or 5 channels that I regularly watch.

  9. Is it really that big a deal to fast forward two minutes?

    Anyway, I thought the show was OK. I was expecting Oz like realism and actual exploration of race/class/etc like in that show but quickly figured that wasn’t going to happen. So I enjoyed it for what it was – a bit of harmless sentimental comedy.