TV review: “Orange is the New Black” offers strong second season

From the June 12, 2014 edition

Like the premiere season of “Orange is the New Black,” it only took me a handful of days to marathon the second. I’m not entirely sure if it’s the storytelling or the Netflix delivery method that makes flying through so effortless. If I had to guess, I’d lean toward the narrative because this was another strong season, in spite of a few flaws.

Created by Jenji Kohan (“Weeds”) from the memoir by Piper Kerman about her months in minimum security, “Orange” is a captivating look inside the women’s prison system that feels (mostly) genuine. The key to the series, both this season and the first, is how it develops the myriad characters.

The first season was brilliant because it built each character, those important to the narrative of protagonist Piper (Taylor Schilling) and those on the periphery, with depth and humanity. The series was often at its best exploring the individual stories (and backstories) of characters who didn’t seem important at the beginning.

Having watched the entire second season — no spoilers here — I was entertained and impressed by “Orange.” But there was something about already knowing these characters, from what we learned in the first season, that kept me from being completely enthralled. Then again, I did plow through 13 episodes in only four days (and I plan on re-watching everything) so maybe I was captivated.

This season seems to spend more time in the prison than using the flashbacks, which seems appropriate because we already know many of the characters’ history. But my favorite moments were learning about how Taystee (Danielle Brooks) and Lorna Morello (Yael Stone) wound up in Litchfield.

The one place I found problematic was the new character “Vee” (Lorraine Toussaint). Toussaint turned in a strong performance, but the character felt too much like a mustache-twirling villain. The brilliance of “Orange” is that everyone and no one is both a hero and a villain.

Season 2 is another stellar and ambitious 13 episodes of television that deserve to be talked about with the best. It doesn’t quite live up to the first season, but that’s a tough act to follow.