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Orange Is The New Black: Season One (2013)

Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/13/2014

All Ratings out of





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/13/2014

I would like to think that when we approach movies and television shows that we all try to be open-minded. However, there's no doubt that we all have genres that we don't like. One of mine is anything set in a prison, although I'm not really sure as to why. Maybe the sense of confinement bothers me. Or perhaps it's that I don't like the idea of sympathizing with criminals. Either way, I've never been a fan. Given that, I approached Orange Is The New Black with a sense of trepidation. Would a prison show be able to hold my interested over 13 episodes?

Based on a true story, Orange Is The New Black introduces us to Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a woman whose life has been turned upside down. She is engaged to Larry (Jason Biggs), a writer, and she's about to embark on opening a designer soap company. However, several years ago, when Piper was young and curious, she once carried drug money for Alex (Laura Prepon), who was her lover at the time. Piper was indicted on federal charges and she has decided to turn herself in to serve 13 months in prison. She reports to the prison and finds herself in a strange new world. Stripped (literally) of her clothes and belongings, Piper finds that some of the other prisoners are nice, but the rules are strict and sometimes illogical. Still, she's a smart woman and she begins to adjust. But, she also learns that she has to keep her opinions to herself and that being smart means that she also has a tendency to get involved in other people's business. In the meantime, Piper finds that the other inmates all have their reasons for being there.

The show's basic premise is taken from the memoir of Piper Kiernan, who wrote about her time in prison. As she serves as a consultant on the show, this air of reality really helps the show. When we hear "prison" and "reality" together, we automatically think of something gritty and brutal. And while we do get that with Orange Is The New Black, the show focuses more on things like budget problems and how the prisoners basic needs are often not met. We also learn about the inconsistent treatment from the guards and how the rules never seem to work in anyone's favor. While the show isn't necessarily an expose on the American prison system, it doesn't pull any punches when it comes to showing how many things don't work.

But, the real draw of Orange Is The New Black are the characters and their stories. Obviously, Piper is the main character, but the show also wisely uses her as an anchor and we see most everything through her eyes. We are discovering just how crazy prison is as she does. But, the show also spends ample time with the other inmates as well. Despite having half of the number of episodes as a standard network show, Orange Is The New Black manages to really explore a very large number of characters and we get to know them. The show makes liberal use of flashbacks, so we get a taste of what their lives were like before they became incarcerated and for some, we learn about their crimes.

The show also does a nice job of delivering a diverse group of characters. Prison, especially women's prison, conjures up specific images of the inmates, but the show moves beyond the stereotypes, allowing Piper to meet some nice, smart women, and some that fall at the other end of those spectrums.

Orange Is The New Black also does a nice job of balancing its tone. When we think of prison, we think of drama, and we get plenty of that here. Piper must deal with the sorrow of being away from Larry and her life and learning to cope with the emotional stress which comes with being behind bars. We also get some suspense and intrigue, as Piper sometimes feels that her life is in danger. But, the surprising part of the show is the much needed levity which pops up quite often. The show is laugh-out-loud funny at times and these funny moments help to off-set the darker ones, making the show feel very well-rounded.

My only complaint about Orange Is The New Black is that given the confines of the prison, both physically and creatively, the show feels somewhat redundant at times. Given the number of featured characters, we are given many different stories, but, at the end of the day, they are all still prisoners. Still, the show does provide enough material to keep from getting boring, and having now watched the first season twice, I can say that the way in which the show juggles multiple plots and sub-plots is impressive. As many Netflix subscribers have already discovered, this show makes for good binge-viewing and I'm looking forward to gorging Season Two.

Orange Is The New Black: Season One shows that Piper is like MacGyver with maxi-pads on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The three-Disc set contains all 13 episodes of the first season. The show has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a hint of grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is impressive and we can make out the textures on surfaces. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.2 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are nicely done and they often illustrate sounds coming from off-screen. The surround sound effects come into play during crowd scenes. We get some subwoofer effects from musical cues.

The Orange Is The New Black: Season One Blu-ray Disc contains several extras which are spread out across the three Discs. Disc 1 offers an AUDIO COMMENTARY for the episode "I Wasn't Ready" from Producers Jenji Kohan, Tara Herrmann, and Mark Burley. Disc 2 brings us "New Kid on the Cell Block" (7 minutes) gives a general overview of how the show got made. It features comments from Piper Kiernan and Kohan, as well as members of the cast. "It's Tribal" (8 minutes) looks at how groups and cliques develop in prison, most of which are drawn along racial lines, and how they are portrayed in the show. Disc 3 brings us another AUDIO COMMENTARY, this time on "Can't Fix Crazy" with Kohan, Harrmann, and Burley. "Mother Hen: Red Runs the Coop" (7 minutes) focuses on Kate Mulgrew's character and how her presence has an impact on the story. The written and unwritten laws of incarceration and how they are shown on the show is examined in "Prison Rules" (8 minutes). Finally, we have a 7-minute GAG REEL.

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long