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.

TGIT

Jack Donaghy, Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming for General Electric.

                          Thank God it’s Thursday. All week long, I keep busy by going to the gym, watching re-runs of NCIS on USA Network, and catching up with Burn Notice on DVD through Netflix. It’s a pretty sweet existence, to be sure, but I’m always waiting. For what, you ask?

Waiting for Thursday at 8 p.m., when The Vampire Diaries starts and a full night of great TV begins. In addition to finding out what’s going on in Mystic Falls, tonight I’ll be tuning in for The Office, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Jersey Shore (no judging).

Fringe, another great Thursday night show, is taking a break for the World Series and won’t be back until next week. If the previews are any indication, the real Olivia might finally escape the alternate reality and face her doppelganger. Wow – just re-reading that sentence makes me feel like I have finally reached the pinnacle of Mount Nerd. Nevertheless, it’s an amazingly good show.

30 Rock is also taking a break tonight, presumably to make time for something NBC calls “Scared Shrekless.” Sounds like a most unworthy replacement to me. Speaking of 30 Rock, could it get any funnier? A week later, and I’m still laughing about Jack’s line, “I have to go tell Rachel Maddow that only one of us can have this haircut.” And the live episode from two weeks ago was pure genius.

Ah, salute!

I spent the better part of my precious TV time during the last couple months watching The Sopranos. This was my first time watching what is now arguably one of the most iconic shows of the last 20 years.

I’m an avid fan of HBO, but I didn’t watch The Sopranos while it was on for two reasons: it was a little before my time, and until recently when I got my own place I didn’t have premium channels or Netflix.

To be honest, I initially had my doubts. I’m not a huge fan of gangster genre films like Scarface, and I was thinking The Sopranos would fit the genre mold. I liked The Godfather, but that is just a great movie, whether you like the genre or not.

It turned out that The Sopranos is a lot like The Godfather in that way. It’s a well-done, intriguing story about the mafia, but it is also about being an (Italian) American, being a parent, being a son or daughter, being married, growing old, dealing with death – when it comes down to it it’s about the life of a family. It strikes me that this comment is remarkably similar to my assessment of another HBO show, Big Love. Perhaps this is what HBO does best – presenting viewers with themes they can relate to, wrapped in a fancy package like the mafia or polygamy.

Throughout six seasons, the quality of the show never faltered, and there are some superb acting, directing and writing talents on display throughout. Particularly, the three main characters played by James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, and Lorraine Bracco. There were many deaths, but they never ceased to be shocking, poignant and memorable. Take the deaths of Ralph or Johnny Sack or Chris, for example. Then there are the interpersonal moments between the characters – the heated arguments between Tony and Carmilla that led up to their separation, Tony’s visit to Junior in the state nursing home, or Tony’s frantic rescue of AJ from the pool and resulting devastation over his mental state.

A lot of people complain about the series finale, “Made in America.” Perhaps I have the luxury of being detached from the hype of the time it aired, but I was satisfied with it. Ultimately, it is hard to end an epic, long-running show.

Although there is a lot of debate about what exactly happened after the screen went to black, I believe Tony was killed by the suspicious fellow at the bar, and possibly his family was caught in the crossfire, as often happened when someone was killed on the show. This notion is somewhat sad, but it is realistic given the preceding episodes. And to be honest, by the time the finale came, I felt like Tony, Carmilla, Meadow and AJ were all responsible, to varying degrees, for the deaths of innocent people. If they were not directly involved (as was the case with Tony), they were complacent. However, even though their characters were irreparably tarnished, I would not have wanted to see their deaths played out on screen in the gruesome manner of, say Phil Leotardo. In other words, the ending satisfied my need to have The Soprano family reap what they sowed, while preserving my feelings.

To wrap this post up, I cannot overstate how excellent, and entertaining, this series was. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you take the time to watch it.

New shows and a returning favorite

Warehouse 13’s daring duo, Pete and Myka, is the driving force behind the show, but the addition of guest star Jaime Murray as the season two villain is really going to shake things up.

There have been several series premieres and some notable returning favorites in the last couple weeks. I don’t have time to watch them all, but I am digging a few of them – namely Haven and Warehouse 13 on SyFy and Rizzoli and Isles on TNT. I DVR’d Covert Affairs on USA last night, but didn’t have a chance to watch it yet. The reviews of the new spy thriller starring Piper Parabo have been good, so I’m looking forward to checking that out tonight.

Warehouse 13 came back with a bang last week with an episode that featured Jaime Murray (aka Lila Tournay from Dexter) as none other than H.G. Wells. I can’t say enough about how great Murray was in Dexter – sexy, mean, and devious in all her brunette, British glory. She seems to be the overarching villain for this season, and I am very excited to watch the story play out. Last night’s episode was also excellent, and fully displayed the chemistry between agents Myka (Joanne Kelly) and Pete (Eddie McClintock). The wit and general appeal of these two kept me coming back for more even as the first season became a bit tedious, and I think we can expect more funny banter and light sexual tension from them this summer. All in all, I’m really excited to see how this show plays out, and it already seems to be much-improved from last year.

The other SyFy vehicle that I picked up on DVR this week was Haven, which premiered last Friday. Of course, it can be difficult to say how good a show is going to be based on the pilot alone, but I’m thinking this one has a lot of promise, for a few reasons. First, it’s based on a Stephen King novel called The Colorado Kid. Say what you will about the sometimes cheesy nature of the movies that are based on King’s books, but I love his writing and many of his movies are classics. So there’s good base material. Second, the lead actress Emily Rose, who plays FBI agent Audrey Parker, had a cool, commanding presence reminiscent of Olivia from Fringe. And third, the show seems to have a decent budget – it has a slick, high quality feel that I must admit is sometimes lacking in other SyFy productions (Warehouse 13, with its ridiculous CG imagery is guilty of this). I’ll keep watching this one for sure.

As for Rizzoli and Isles, I had my doubts. Although I enjoy cop dramas, I don’t religiously watch them. I’m more of a casual viewer of shows like Law and Order, NCIS, and CSI – watching at the gym or pausing for a few moments when I’m channel surfing. The first episode hooked me, not necessarily with Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander (who pay Rizzoli and Isles, respectively), but with co-stars Lorraine Bracco (aka Dr. Jennifer Melfi from The Sopranos), who plays Rizzoli’s mom, and Billy Burke (aka Chief Swan from Twilight), who plays hottie FBI agent Gabriel Dean. These two really round out the cast and are going to make me tune in for at least one more episode. While the case they investigated may have been lacking (typical, fast-moving serial killer plot), the dynamic between Rizzoli and the various people in her life (including her mother, Agent Dean, her old and new partners, and medical examiner Isles) was engaging and witty.

So that’s it. I’ll let you know about Covert Affairs after I have had a chance to watch it. Unfortunately, it’s going to have to compete for screen time with three, count ‘em, three Sopranos discs that are arriving via Netflix today. And you thought I was only watching True Blood…

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.

For a good time call Michael Westen

The cast of Burn Notice heats up Miami (L to R: Sharon Gless as Madeline Westen, Bruce Campbell as Sam Axe, Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Westen, Gabrielle Anwar as Fiona Glenanne).

After much prodding from my co-blogger, I finally had a chance to queue up the first season of Burn Notice. So what do I think?

Jeffrey Donovan is hot. Gabrielle Anwar is hot. Hell, even Bruce Campbell is hot, in a sloppy sort of way. In short, the show is as hot as its setting in Miami.

I wasn’t sure that I would like Burn Notice. I don’t religiously watch action shows, and USA has always been somewhat hit or miss for me (unless you’re talking about Up All Night, which was always a hit). But Burn Notice is a strong show because the three lead characters have such chemistry as a team, and such charisma as individuals. Each episode stands alone because of the different cases, but the larger story arcs of Michael’s investigation into his burn and the relationship between Fiona and Michael is great.

I’ve only watched eight episodes, but I’m hooked. Not only do I love the stories, characters and quippy one liners, I love the setting of the show. Like Dexter, Burn Notice takes full advantage of Miami in all its grit and glory. And don’t get me started about the fashion – the suits, the sunglasses, Fiona’s entire wardrobe – to die for. I even ordered a look-alike hip bag because I can’t stop admiring Fiona’s (check it out here).

If you haven’t watched Burn Notice, I recommend you do. And if you don’t have Netflix, or simply don’t want to catch up with the show like I am, you can probably start watching at any time. Reruns abound, and it’s pretty self explanatory.

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?

The rewatchability of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

There are some shows that are great, but you can only watch them once. A good example of this would be Big Love, a show I love but probably would not watch repeatedly.

Then there are shows that have a little something I like to call “rewatchability.” This is a term coined by me and the husband. Essentially, whenever we watch a show or a movie we rate it on its quality (using the Netflix five-star system), but we also rate it on its potential to be watched again.

Currently, I am watching It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia on DVD. This show has classic rewatchability – it’s hilarious, the plots are simple and there is always some comic gem waiting to be discovered in an episode watched while, say, you are writing a blog post. I love Charlie Day. Five stars of rewatchability, hands down, for his comedic stylings alone.

Some other shows that have great rewatchability for me are The Office, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed. What shows do you find yourself rewatching?

#waitingsucks

The newest True Blood promo poster features Bill's missing person ad.

I’ve been anxiously awaiting season three of True Blood all year. As I mentioned a few posts back, this show was the deciding factor in my switch from Netflix-only TV viewing to full-on cable subscription. Of course, there are a lot of other shows I love to watch as they air each week, but if I had to pick just one show, True Blood would be my favorite. So with only a little more than a month to go, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to suppress my desire to talk about the show. Ergo this post.

Waiting sucks, but HBO has done a great job of building the anticipation through teasers, trailers, promotional items and behind-the-scenes footage. Right now, you can see in-production 30-second spots at the end of the weekly encore airing of season two (Sundays at 8 p.m.) and these are also posted on HBO.com. Last week, the network announced that a mini-episode would air at the end of each upcoming encore episode. I wasn’t exactly sure what a mini-episode was, but I definitely tuned in. Turns out, it’s a 3-4 minute clip not aired in seasons one or two, and not to be aired in the upcoming season. You can see the first one on Yahoo! TV with Eric and Pam hiring new Fangtasia dancers.

HBO has also made some pretty cool promo posters to go along with the new season – my favorite being the one that says “VILF.”

The newest teaser trailer is an updated version of the in-production trailer that came out a few months ago, with the bottles of Tru Blood coming off the assembly line. But this time the bottles are printed with a missing person advertisement for Bill.

I am a faithful fan of the Southern Vampire Series by Charlaine Harris on which the show is based, so to a certain extent I know what is going to happen in season three. But the show has been a lot different than the books, so there are bound to be surprises. I think I know who took Bill – but I may be wrong.

Do we have any Truebies out there? Have you been keeping up with the hype surrounding season three?

As a side note, sorry about my absence from the blog for the last few days. I was in the Big Apple visiting some college pals and didn’t have access to TV/computer (gasp!)

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!”