Written by James Reilly – Student Pages Entertainment Journalist/Film Critic
I am a big Orange is the New Black fan since the show came out. Do I think its a master of its genre like House of Cards? No, but its addicting and very binge-worthy. However, slightly like House of Cards (but more to its decrement here) the show peaked. The early seasons of OITNB are good – not just ‘bingeable’. However a show that would of been a great 3-season show run, has dragged onto its fifth season.
That being said, is this fifth season enjoyable? Yes, in a semi-guilty-pleasure kind of way. Its not bad, just feels very stretched. The concept of this season is based on a prison riot thats extended from where we left the cast in the end of season three. A prison riot would make an excellent addition to the show, a thrilling high concept idea with a lot of possibilities and reach. Do they quite meet the expectations they gave us after season four? Not exactly.
The plot seems stretched. While the idea of a riot hitting Litchfield is exciting and dramatic presence, the way its executed seems drawn out and overly convoluted. This season seems like a metaphor for how the shows gone so far, great concept and mostly well executed – just a tad too long. I felt this season could have benefited from having a very nice and tight six-episode story arch with the riot and then we pick up with the remaining episodes on the fallout. Treating a series like a three act structure, by the end of the first six episodes we would be on the end of the second act – our characters are at their lowest point, which would lead us nicely into a tense, dramatic third act and end to the season.
The characters here once again are the major plus of the show. The characters we like and the ones who get the most quality development are once again on great show here. The majority of those characters have continuing great arcs here and we are still invested five seasons in on their lives. However the show, with the amount of characters they have included and the amount of time they dedicate to each character, leads to a lot of unnecessary moments for a lot of unnecessary characters. This felt more prominent here than previous seasons. Piper is at her most annoying, something which has slowly been developing over the last five seasons, however the positive is that I think the writers know this. Where once she was by far the dominant character, here she barely has screen time till halfway through the season. This leaves a void to be filled. A show without a main protagonist (or protagonists) suffers rom the emptiness that this show has and has been trying to fill ever since season two. That doesn’t mean the characters they’ve set up to be the main protagonists in this season aren’t interesting – they are, its the other characters. The “druggie-friends” (they have names, but I can’t for the life of me remember them – I think ones Leanne?) are insufferable. They are poorly developed, poorly written, poorly acted (at times). So WHY do we spend so much time with them?! Suzanne, aka Crazy Eyes, we’ve seen before – there’s nothing new here. Vause is still more engaging than Piper, but despite having strong potential from where we left her in season four, they barely do anything with it.
That being said there are some positives. Piscatella, our main antagonist, is given a very simple, brief backstory – but its all we need to fully understand and get this character. Some characters we’ve had four previous seasons with compared to Piscatella – yet after his effective backstory, he feels one of the most compelling. Classic case of this show; sometimes quality beats quantity. Red has a good story-arc, if not again too long, that feels like one of the most important of the series with it furthering the story as well as the character development of some characters who have stepped up and become vital in this season which we’ve not seen before. The resolution of this series, despite my feeling it should of happened earlier and we get to see the payoff this season instead of waiting till next year, feels earned and justifiably tense and dramatic which does make me yearn for the next season, even if I had etc continue to put up with the pacing problems.
The show is not bad. In fact, early seasons I would call it pretty terrific, however the show has had a pretty substantial drop in quality. Its quite hard to see, especially as you’ve come to love and enjoy these characters, but if you can see past that – its there. I thoroughly enjoy my time with the show, even when its not at its best, I just hope the show returns to more balanced well paced story lines like in previous seasons. While I appreciate their big concept ideas for this season, I feel their reach can’t quite grasp the most high concept, electric season of the show to date. If you’re like me and have enjoyed the show up until now – you will continue to do so. If you are not a fan of the show, this season is not likely to change your mind.
Follow James at @JamesisGinger