Every television show has at least one season that I would call mediocre. Supernatural had season 6, Heroes and Sons of Anarchy both had season 2, and so on. With the exception of Game of Thrones (so far), no shows are truly immune to this situation—call it laziness, confusion, or just lack of the ability to come up a full vision of a season. So, with that said, I’ll just say it: I was not a fan of Orange Is the New Black’s last season. However, season 5 is now out, and I believe it puts the show back on track.
What was so wrong with season 4 and so right with season 5? Allow me to explain.
Season 4 attempted to make things more topical by integrating current events into its plots, at which I felt it failed. There has been a lot of debate around whether Orange Is the New Black is considered a comedy or a drama, something that only intensifies when awards season comes about. To me the show has always been a dark comedy, a comedy capable of great dramatic moments, but I feel it deviated from that pattern with season 4. I am not a fan of politics being in television unless it is hilarious—I’ve said before and I’ll say again that South Park is the shining example of doing this well. Though I applaud Orange Is the New Black’s attempt to bring important issues to light, I feel that when a show does so, it often comes off as preachy regardless on what side of aisle it is coming from. Without a payoff of laughter or something, I feel it hurts the product. In this case, it became less about the comical schadenfreude that is this show and as more like, “You’ve had your laughs; now allow us to serve a serious purpose.” Noble and all, but it seemed like such a drastic change in format to this viewer.
Before I move on to season 5, I want to mention another thing that bothered me about season 4: Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) converting to Judaism. It is really hard to insult me through television, so I don’t want to give the impression that that’s what my issue was. Instead, I just felt it served no real purpose. At first it started as a ploy by the inmates to receive fresher produce at meal times, which I found hilarious. But then it turned into a sincere desire on Cindy’s part to find a place to belong. I’m for that if it all were genuine on the journey. Her knowledge was based on Jews in film and nothing beyond fresher food—which, again, would have been funny had it ended there. I just found it in bad form toward the religion without the payoff of laughter or a seemingly genuinely heartwarming moment. Emphasis on genuine.
But on to season 5. I have thought from the beginning of the show that its only true flaw was that its main protagonist, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), was sentenced to a mere 15-month sentence—and it seemed they just fast-forwarded through months in the first season alone. What is different here is that the entire 13-episode season takes place in something like four days. To me, this is genius. The whole season involves around the inmates and their revolt against the oppressors in the name of their fallen comrade, Poussey (Samira Wiley). At least, it does at first. The real genius of this season beyond the time span is in how the inmates essentially start out as a united front, but by the end, one wonders what they truly wanted to achieve. Everyone splinters off and does their own thing in such a way that even in freedom, they are pretty much only out for themselves, which is what made the show fun to watch in their interactions in the beginning. There is an interesting take on how the various races experience this revolt—a move not all shows could get away with.
I won’t give anything away, but the finale left me thinking everything will be different next season because of the events of this one—something I didn’t feel at the end of season 4. A new prison, perhaps? We shall find out.