Making the Case for ‘Orange is the New Black’

Note: Over the next week, the Awards Daily TV crew will be Making the Case to win for each nominee in the Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Drama Series categories in random order. We’ll be dropping one each day through the Emmy voting period. Share/retweet your favorites to build the buzz!

Netflix’s Orange is the New Black

Metacritic Score: 95
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Number of Nominations: 4
Major Nominations: Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama (Uzo Aduba)

First, it’s criminal that Orange is the New Black is only nominated for 4 Emmys. Did everyone think that everyone else was going to nominate it for stuff, so they didn’t bother? Is this an example of the Netflix/binge schedule hurting one’s chances for awards (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Transparent racked up tons of nominations)? The second season of Orange is the complete antithesis of a sophomore slump. It opens up the yard of Litchfield to a tapestry of characters that regular network television seriously lacks.

The first season of Orange was a scrappy newcomer, but the second season gave us permission to meet the characters to a greater extent than another program would. One cannot argue a case in favor of this show without first and foremost describing these women. You love these characters—love, love, love them. You crave their histories prior to getting involved with the law and you gravely anticipate watching them making the mistake that lands them in the clink.

The season opener does something pretty daring. It takes the character that everyone hates, Piper Chapman, and sticks her in a completely different prison for the entire episode. People need to really get over their hate of Taylor Schilling’s character, but removing her from the main action was risky since it might turn viewers off enough to make them turn off their Netflix. We are reminded that Piper and the gang could be in even worse situations. By the halfway point of this season, however, Piper is just a stitch in the show’s tapestry of characters. Her lone wolf monologue shows a feral side to her that illuminates her desire to get the hell out of there.

The running theme of family or makeshift familial units is very prevalent throughout the second season. Piper is allowed to say goodbye to her grandmother, and it causes strife among the other groups at Litchfield. Daya’s developing pregnancy forces her to actually communicate with her mother, and Red desperately tries to get back into the good graces of her adopted daughters. Hell, even the clique of senior women feels like silver-haired family clan.

The black members rally behind probably the biggest mother that Orange has seen so far. Vee Parker is played by the magnificent Lorraine Toussaint. The fact that she didn’t receive an Emmy nomination is tragic. Vee returns to prison and immediately reconnects with Taystee, Litchfield superstar and a former superstar drug runner for Vee. There is something deeply fascinating about watching Toussaint in every scene she’s in. Her relationship with Uzo Aduba’s Suzanne (i.e., the only acting nominee) is both calculated and tender simultaneously. While she’s obviously very dangerous, she also helps Suzanne truly shed the “Crazy Eyes” nickname and claim an identity for herself. The series should win Outstanding Drama Series just as a consolation prize for snubbing Toussaint’s subtle yet transfixing performance.

Orange, however, has its very light moments. It’s hard to truly categorize it, because it walks a very fine line between drama and comedy. In one episode, Piper is telling her former fiancé and her best friend to go screw themselves for developing a relationship “behind her back” to such an uncomfortable level that you laugh just to release the tension. In the next episode, you are tearing up because of Lorna’s unhealthy obsession with Christopher. Or Miss Rosa’s final ride. Or Jimmy’s unceremonious eviction from the prison grounds.

The other reason why Orange should be in serious contention (despite its lack of nominations) is because it’s that good. It was one of the first shows to debut on Netflix, and the show is addictive enough to change the way we watch television. When we tuned back into the second season, we expected another stellar batch of episodes. What we got was a surprisingly complicated, heart-wrenching realization that this show is the real deal.

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