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 Cards — traditional 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.