Blurring the lines: Orange is the New Black Season 3 Review

Orange is the New Black Season 3One of the truest marks of a great show is how it does coming off of one of its best seasons. For a lot of shows, seasons 3 and 4 can be tough – the show is established in its first season, and usually hits a good pace in season 2, and can sometimes struggle to keep up and maintain focus in season 3.

After an amazing sophomore set of episodes, Orange is the New Black came back earlier this month with a solid season, albeit one that lacked some of the momentum of its predecessor.

Notably lacking a “big bad” like Vee, the show bounced around, alternately showing the current situations and origins of the women of Litchfield. At times funny (Felonious Spunk) and at times poignantly sad (who knew we could feel so much for Pensatucky?), it played out like a series of vignettes.

All of the characters are evolving, and it speaks to the strength of the writing that they can grow and reveal new aspects of themselves without losing the audience. Take Pensatucky (Taryn Manning), for example. This season, we find her a quieter, softer version of herself – dare I say humbled by her experiences, she is questioning her sense of self and learning to accept that there are some gray areas in life. Her friendship with Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) seemed odd at first, but by the end of the season, it was one of my favorite storylines. Life has hardened both of these women, and yet somehow, in the end, they make the right choice with the donut-pushing, rapist guard, Coates.

Most surprisingly, I was touched by Black Cindy’s (Adrienne C. Moore) conversion, which started out as a way to get kosher meals, and ended up as a sincere coming of age moment for a woman who, as the new counselor Berdie said of the inmates, seemed to have the emotional maturity of a child.

These high points were offset by Piper’s (Taylor Schilling) evolution. While her new criminal enterprise was amusing at times (her prison yard rallying cry was memorable and her conversations with her brother brought some levity), I didn’t completely buy her newfound lack of empathy and hardened attitude. And although I love the addition of Ruby Rose (beautifully androgynous and captivating on screen as Stella), her talent seemed to be wasted in the love triangle with Piper and Vause (Laura Prepon). Frankly, I just didn’t care that much.

Overall, I’d give the season a B-. I enjoyed it and devoured the episodes, and there is plenty to look forward to next year. Is Vause going to make it out of that garden shed alive? What will happen when the celebrity chef joins the Litchfield gang? And how will all the inmates (and guards) deal with what looks to be a massive influx of new prisoners?

I’ll definitely be tuning in to find the answers to those questions, with the hope that there is a little more focus.

Gone but not forgotten: The freaks, carnies and religious lunatics of Carnivále

The season one cast of Carnivále, a show canceled far too early.

My Netflix queue is pretty lengthy, so it often takes me a while to get around to watching an old show. Case in point, Carnivále. A good friend told me to check this out a few years ago; I queued it up then, and am just now receiving it.

I have to say, I’m surprised that it got canceled. I’ve watched almost the entire first season, and it is the kind of quality show that HBO is famous for delivering. Great actors, especially for horror fans who would recognize Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Creepshow, Swamp Thing, Escape from New York) and Bill Moseley (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, House of 1,000 Corpses). The storyline is also really interesting; with plenty of carnival and freak show lore, as well as supernatural occurrences, set to the backdrop of The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Religious and occult themes underscore the entire plot, leaving much up for interpretation.

Carnivále reminds me a lot of a book I read a while ago called “Geek Love.” If you haven’t read this book, or seen the show, both are worth checking out. I find freak shows of this era to be extremely fascinating.

I think this show was canceled at about the same time Deadwood bit the dust. I’m a huge Deadwood fan, and it’s just disappointing to see such great shows get canceled before their time. And although I know Carnivále will end abruptly, I am still going to be disappointed when I reach the end. It’s just that good. I would trade 10 shows like Sex and the City for just one show like Deadwood or Carnivále any day.

Andrea Up All Night

It’s a quarter to 2 a.m. I’m wide awake, doing laundry and watching The X-Files. I think I’ve told you before that I never watched this as it aired, so I am enjoying it for the first time via Netflix.

This really was a great show. Earlier today I mentioned how much I love the monster of the week episodes of Fringe, and the same is true for The X-Files. Also, I have a pretty serious crush on Mulder, and a girl crush on Scully. What an awesome pair.

Case in point, the episode I’m watching right now from season five, titled “The Post-Modern Prometheus.” It’s shot in black and white, and the “villain” is a two-faced mutant man who enjoys listening to Cher and eating peanut butter sandwiches while impregnating the local ladies. Quirky and clever, it’s a great time.

I love staying up late. It reminds me of being a kid again, watching USA Up All Night with Rhonda Shear. They used to show great horror movie marathons, like all of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Critters movies. Of course, then I didn’t do my own laundry so it was a lot cooler. I could also eat with the indiscretion of a metabolically blessed teenager. I remember watching movies all night, eating a box of Eggos and a Pop Tart for dessert. If I was in the mood for something a little different, I would eat a box of Mrs. T’s Pierogies. Those were the days, my friend.

Is anyone else up? If so what are you watching?

Big Love: It’s like Parenthood, if Parenthood was awesome

I really like Big Love. I’ve been watching it on DVD through Netflix, and yesterday I watched episodes nine and 10 from the first season.

The strength of this show lies in the actors’ talent (Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin) and the character development of Bill Henrickson and his three wives. Somehow, with a concept that is foreign to most people – polygamy – the writers and actors have managed to make a show that is, at its heart, about family.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an HBO production without plenty of crazy drama, but that is what makes the show interesting. The storylines that involve The Prophet and the compound are really gripping, even if they can be a bit off-the-wall at times. And that’s what keeps me coming back for more, because let’s face it – who wants to watch a show that’s just like real life? It’s like this – if NBC’s Parenthood was actually a compelling show it would be Big Love.

I, like Bill, am fond of each of the wives for a different reason – Barb for being the sensible anchor of the family; Nicki for being the crazy and stubborn, but tough-as-nails second wife; and Margene for the silly, but sweet, personality she brings into the mix. And I love Bill’s parents – Frank played by Bruce Dern (you might know him as Rumsfeld from The ‘burbs) and Lois played by Grace Zabriskie. These two play off each other so well. The Easter episode, in which Frank peed in the sink all weekend long to the horror of the wives, had me in stitches.

Do any of you watch Big Love? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Ode to Netflix

While most of my posts up to this point have focused on what I watch on TV, I haven’t taken any time to wax poetic on how I watch TV. Mark and I have both praised the DVR, but for me Netflix trumps the DVR as the most innovative way to watch TV.

Specifically, I’m talking about the Netflix Instant Watch service, which comes with the mail plans. In case you aren’t familiar with it, Netflix Instant Watch allows you to stream movies and TV shows from the Internet to your TV. There are a variety of devices you can use – Roku box (that’s what we have), Nintendo Wii, X-box, and others. You can also stream on your computer.

The Instant Watch catalog is impressive – with tens of thousands of movie choices and past seasons of shows from nearly all the major networks. In fact, there have been numerous shows that I started watching on Netflix. Given my rave reviews of Lost, you would probably assume I’ve been watching from day one, but I actually watched the first five seasons from December 2009 to February 2010. Warning: this can become quite addictive and often results in a sleep-deprived, zombie-like state that your friends and family may assume is related to drug use. I also started watching The Office, Dexter, The Tudors and 30 Rock on Netflix.

Of course, for those shows not available on the Instant Watch, there is always the old-school, DVD-in-the-mail option. We have the three-movie-at-a-time plan, and have watched several great shows this way including Deadwood and The X-Files. Right now, I’m catching up with Big Love through the mail. Sometime I’ll talk about these shows.

What prompted this Ode to Netflix? Twas the night before last, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring except for my two cats. My husband in his boxers, and I in my PJs, had just settled down to watch nothing on TV. When I pulled up the Instant queue and realized The X-Files was added, I arose from my couch and shouted “Yippee!” I browsed to see what else was added, when what to my wondering eyes should appear – Bones, 24 and Arrested Development. I spoke not a word, just frantically clicked “Add.” And as the night waned, I watched 24 with bloodshot, tired eyes. As I dragged myself to bed at an all-too-late hour, I arose from the couch and said with a tired stammer, “Happy viewing to all and to all a good Netflix night!”