Review : Orange is the New Black – Episode 1 (2013/TV-MA)

Netflix which started out as a movie rental house on the internet (take that blockbuster, shut down Mega Video will you) is now branching out into original programing (because yeah that’s what you should do when your name has Flix in it, do less in the way of movies.) Anyone who knows us (so like 8 people) knows basically since 1997 original series on premium channels have become the bane of our existence while for every Mr. Show, Tales From the Crypt, Camelot, and Penny Dreadful, you get the overrated, over blown, Emmy award ballot box stuffing, critics circle jerk marathon Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Leftovers, Torchwood, and Masters of Sex. Is it any wonder we dumped HBO in 2004! Now that we got the back story out of the way right at the beginning (by the way back story, structure, pacing, and all around confusion and vagueness of plots could fill volumes on how these shows are all text book examples of how NOT to do those things) let’s delve into why we are here, namely a review of Orange is the New Black.

Right off the bat the story starts and it’s some non sequitur line (ok probably will mean something but who will bloody well remember it 8 god damn episodes later at 32:45 in spoken by some day player no one has ever heard of.) Next hey there’s nudity because it’s premium content gotta have nudity just to show how creative it is and no way you ever see this bold and creative stuff on ABC or Fox. So after that pointless scene the painful opening credits of harshly lit ECU shots of people with bad skin. Aside from this making no sense, when one has a 40 inch HDTV and streaming this on their HD AppleTV, these are shots that you simply don’t want in your living room especially while eating. So that’s already an F for the editor of the sequence who should know in editing 101 you don’t do that many ECUs back to back to back, and don’t defend it as art, there’s a major difference between art and piss poor editing.

After that trauma it’s time to start the show, and it opens on a bar be cue. No someone didn’t sit on the remote and accidentally change it to a cooking show on PBS Create (which by the way does have ECU shots but that’s required as you need detail there) this is the first scene, there are having a bar be cue because the main character is going to jail tomorrow (um ok why) now yes it could be argued it is an hour show they will get to it, it can also be argued and correctly pointed out this is not proper story structure. You have to give a setup up to the plot, this should have started in the court room at the sentencing and clearly spelled out what happened and why this requires jail time. All hour long shows are guilty of this today (pardon the legal pun for a prison show) of confusing non linear story arcs. Stop wasting peoples time, it’s rude, selfish, and downright offensive for any show to insist you give it 10, 13, or 20 hours of your time. In today’s world people are far to busy and far to ADHD for any show to get to make that claim. Shows today don’t understand people have maybe 45 minuets to spare, it needs to all be wrapped up in that time span, now yes an underlying subtle story arc for a whole season is fine but the plot for every episode should be A to Z. Episode 1 should set up the tone of the series not just sit there being vague.

So after that scene is an awkward bedroom scene as it is their last night together (again why) so at this point you have to go look on Wikipedia just to figure what the hell is going on. This is another major issue, why does someone have to go look at Wikipedia to figure out the plot of the show this means we have to pause the show to go online just to find the plot so it can be understood, this is basically homework and is wasting more of your time.

Yet another awkward scene follows and there’s now a revelation that finally explains why the main characters is going to prison, well it’s trying to, but it’s awkward and trying to be funny. This raises another point with many hour-long shows today they’re trying to be a hybrid comedy drama the problem is the comedy is not really that funny and it makes the drama come off campy and forced. Yes one can argue The Love Boat was a comedy drama but it had a laugh track so that made it a comedy with it being three little stories that still wrapped up in the 45 minutes allotted. 

Let’s see where we stand here. The show started off non sequitur, you had to go to Wikipedia to find the plot only for the show  to try to explain the plot, and do it really badly, and now are only 14 minutes into the show! *sigh* This is going to be a long hour.

Remember when we touched on story structure well now we get to see it fail miserably. The episode starts going into flashbacks and more flashbacks with a pinch of present day, while some drive the plot most just don’t or do it really badly and kill the pacing (which is a linchpin of story structure 101.) At this point you’re already just going to yourself, ouch my head my head, only to see your now 22 minutes into the show, you got a half hour to go, start drinking.  The episode doesn’t tire of this bad structure and keeps going from flashback to present-day, think of it like family guy with cutaway gags that aren’t funny that have no set up. This causes confusion as it is like two different shows with the same actors trying to compete for the same time slot on the same channel simultaneously.

Moving on to the part where the episode it self says this isn’t Oz.  That’s right there is bad enough when your show has to say “Oh were not like that show on HBO in 1997 that pretty much is the reason why premium cable shows today suck!” Oh by the way episode is trying to be funny and failing miserably the whole time. Yes Rizzoli & Isles does this a lot but one can cut that program some slack as that show understands it’s not premium cable and actually has plot and story structure and can wrap it up in 45 minuets, plus no flash backs.

So now 30 minutes into the show you see there are two people from the movie American Pie. Jesus christ was the casting director just bored one night and happened to pop in the DVD of the film and said “Oh let’s just cast everyone from this movie.” Make the show original don’t make your viewers get nostalgic and want to stop the episode to see a movie from 1999 where a dude humps a pie. Might as well start placing bets that Eugine Levy will make a cameo at some point the way this is going.

Finally after limping along for 51 excruciating minutes the episode finally comes to an end, is there a twist, yes, however because you can never engage with a story that flip-flops and goes back-and-forth so much it kills the over all tone of the episode and also any interest you have in the story. One cannot get invested if one cannot follow the story. Episode two awaits at this point but do you care enough to bother after nearly an hour of bad pacing and story structure? Maybe you should watch it if nothing else is on, but then again you do have Netflix go watch a movie because it’s called you know the service has word Flix in it’s god damn name!

On a scale of 1.0 to 5.9 this episode got a 1.7 out of 5.9


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