TV Review: Orange Is the New Black (2013-2019)

Release Date: July 11th, 2013 – current
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Orange Is the New Black: My Year In a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman
Music by: Regina Spektor (theme), Scott Doherty, Brandon Jay, Gwendolyn Sanford
Cast: Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, Michael Harney, Michelle Hurst, Kate Mulgrew, Jason Biggs, Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Natasha Lyonne, Taryn Manning, Selenis Leyva, Adrienne C. Moore, Dascha Polanco, Nick Sandow, Yael Stone, Lauren Lapkus, Samira Wiley, Jackie Cruz, Diane Guerrero, Lea DeLaria, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Jessica Pimentel, Mary Steenburgen, Ruby Rose, Lori Petty, Asia Kate Dillon

Lionsgate Television, Tilted Productions, Netflix, 65 Episodes (so far), 51-92 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014.

I finally got around to watching Orange Is the New Black. I’m really glad that I did. I am on a mission to watch all the Netflix shows, in order to rank them for a future countdown post and finally I got to this one, which just may be the cream of the crop.

I had heard nothing but good things about this show and had planned on watching it for a while. Time passed, I was busy and all of a sudden, the second season was out and I hadn’t yet watched the first.

This show is pretty remarkable. The plots aren’t overly complex but they are well thought out and pretty layered, which is probably due to what I hear is great source material, which was the memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year In a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman. I’m not sure how closely the show follows the biographical account but the characters and plots feel incredibly real. Which is a testament to the creators, producers, directors, writers and most importantly, the actors.

In fact, the acting is stellar. Taylor Schilling (who plays the lead character, Piper) is really good and I can’t say anything bad about her work here but she is often times overshadowed by the brilliance of those around her. Kate Mulgrew, who was amazing as the lead on Star Trek: Voyager, is even more amazing on this show. Uzo Aduba, who plays Crazy Eyes, may be one of the best actresses I have ever seen and that is something I don’t just throw around. Laura Prepon, who starred on That ’70s Show, is a welcome addition to the cast and gives her best performance to date. Other spectacular presences on this show are Natasha Lyonne, Jason Biggs, Taryn Manning, Lea DeLaria, Laverne Cox, Danielle Brooks, Samira Wiley and Vicky Jeudy. Yael Stone is also fantastic and incredibly adorable as Lorna. Then there is Michael Healy, who brings a great dynamic to the show, as he goes from a caring sort of father figure to a complete tyrannical douchebag.

There are few, if any shows, as well acted as Orange Is the New Black. In fact, the only thing right now that comes to mind is Netflix’s other big hit House of Cards and AMC’s Mad Men.

Now I don’t know if this is a show that can sustain beyond a few seasons but while the ride is good, I will certainly stay on. I know that a third season is coming and I can imagine that several people on this show are now getting good work elsewhere. It’ll be interesting to see how long this lasts and if they can get the cast to stick around, assuming this stays a hit and goes on well into the future. Then again, prison is a revolving door of characters, so why should this show be any different.

And to make a point, I have often times heard this described as the female Oz. While both shows take place in a prison, this is no lady Oz. It is a great balance of comedy, drama and just life. It brings a charm to the table that the extremely hard-edged Oz didn’t have with its brutal and gritty ambiance. I would also go on to say that Orange Is the New Black is the superior show out of the two.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: WeedsOz… simply because of similar themes but there is real contrast in the tones of these two shows.

Film Review: The Hero (2017)

Release Date: January 21st, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Brett Haley
Written by: Marc Basch, Brett Haley
Music by: Keegan DeWitt
Cast: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman, Katharine Ross, Ali Wong, Cameron Esposito

Northern Lights, Park Pictures, Houston King Productions, The Orchard, 93 Minutes

Review:

The Hero finally came out in a theater near me. I had anticipated seeing this since first hearing about it when it played at Sundance in January. Anything with Sam Elliott in the lead is worth checking out and the rest of the small cast is made up of people I love, so I has hoping for something exceptional.

Well, the film is not exceptional but it was still somewhat enjoyable.

The Hero is an American independent drama in its most common form. The story is lighthearted but serious, there is personal tension and everything feels genuine but is sort of cookie cutter and predictable. Unfortunately, from a narrative standpoint, there just isn’t much to sink your teeth into.

The thing that prevents the film from being a total waste is the cast. It’s as if the main character was tailor made for Elliott and it is one of his best performances of all-time, which says a great deal, but the script around his performance just isn’t there to support him.

Laura Prepon, who plays Elliott’s love interest, is also fantastic in this but her character needed a bit more and sadly, the conversations between her and Elliott weren’t as well written as they should have been. This is also the case with Elliott’s scenes with his daughter, played by Krysten Ritter, and his ex-wife, played by the great Katharine Ross. None of the dialogue really had the weight and meaning that it needed.

The high point of the film, at least for me, was seeing Elliott reunited with Nick Offerman, who played his best friend and weed dealer. Elliott and Offerman had a good and hilarious chemistry in the episodes where they appeared together on Parks and Recreation. Their friendship feels real and it is always good seeing either of these guys get a beefy role in the movies. While Offerman only appears in three or four parts, its those scenes that seem to be the best in this picture, maybe because their chemistry and real life friendship cuts through the mediocre script.

The Hero is worth a watch if you like the people in it. It just kind of sucks that they didn’t have something more intimate and well-written to play off of each other. It is a film full of great talent in front of the camera but not a project worthy of their efforts.

Rating: 6.5/10