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23 Jul 2013

Home Video Review: Netflix's 'New Black' Series Starts Off Gangbusters—but Fades Fast

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Taylor Schilling in Orange Is the New Black, on Netflix. Taylor Schilling in Orange Is the New Black, on Netflix.

I suspect that a lot of the critics who are raving about Orange Is the New Black, Netflix’s new original series, failed to watch past the first few episodes.

This drama about women behind bars starts off gangbusters, with touches of brilliance and great humor. But by the time I was watching the 13th episode, I was a few hours past over it. This one loses steam fast and becomes quite a letdown.

The show degenerates from an introspective look at a woman’s stint in prison to a parade of clichés. At first, the story of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling)—who goes up the river for a felony she committed 10 years before—is nothing short of awesome. The show also boasts the best performance from Jason Biggs in a long time, as her beleaguered boyfriend. (There’s even a great American Pie joke.)

However, as Piper settles in to prison life, we get everybody we’ve come to expect in a normal prison drama: crazy guards, the tough Russian woman in charge of the kitchen, and an ex-lover (Laura Prepon) who happens to be incarcerated with Piper. God forbid, there’s a Christmas-pageant episode.

It’s too bad. For a while there, I thought I was watching the next best thing on TV since, well, Netflix gave us a new season of Arrested Development. Then the show downgraded into comical sex scenes and, worst of all, too much time devoted to a religious fanatic meth-head character played by Taryn Manning.

The show, which ends with quite a cliffhanger, has already been renewed for another season. I hope they can recapture some of the magic displayed in the first couple of episodes. Schilling’s performance endures, even when the scripts do not.

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