Review: 'Orange is the New Black' debuts risky fifth season

Posted Tuesday, June 12, 2018 at 9:14 AM Central

by John Couture

While Netflix is notoriously tight-lipped about ratings data for its shows, it is widely accepted that Orange is the New Black is its most-watched original series. The highly successful and critically-acclaimed comedy (drama?) certainly has matured over its five seasons from a whimsical lark to an important political statement on our prison system.

That fact is never more apparent than in the divisive fifth season in which the inmates of Litchfield Prison spend the entire season in riot mode after Poussey's death in season four. Don't get me wrong, there are still enough comic moments to tickle anyone's funny bone, but it seems that season four really signaled a tonal shift in the series and season five only adds gasoline to that fire, no pun intended.

The season's riot unfolds over the course of four days, so the show is forced to get creative with its narratives and rely more heavily on flashbacks and scenes set outside of the prison. The result is a mixed bag of success in which you can get what the writers are going for (ratcheting up the dramatic intensity by increasing the likelihood of disastrous ends for our favorite inmates in a condensed timeframe), but ultimately the limitations they placed upon themselves negatively affected the overall feel of the season.

That's not to say that Orange is the New Black has jumped the shark ala The Walking Dead, but it does have its work cut out for themselves in season six. The good news is that we will soon have our answer as season six is scheduled to debut on Netflix at the end of July.

It is impossible to write weekly scripted narratives without being influenced by the world around you. This is doubly true with Orange is the New Black where the current status quo would be especially felt by the diverse cast. If the show were a reality TV show, it's quite possible that the inmates would leave prison and face even fewer rights and more scorn than when they went in and I'm not just talking about the natural loss of rights that come with criminal conviction.

No, these women are a reflection of the very real struggle that is going on in the real world outside of their prison walls. In some respect, season five's riot is their own little revolution to the changes that are taking place around them. I honestly do not know where they will take the show in season six, but there's a bit of cliff-hanger at the end of season five and the fate of all of the inmates are up in the air after participating in a full-scale riot.

This week's release of Orange is the New Black: Season Five is a good chance to brush up on the show before its season six debut and comes with a few bonus features that will surely resonate with fans of the show. The gag reel and a featurette entitled "72 Hours in 6 Months: Stories of the Season" are both nice additions that fans will cherish. It's always good to see the cast open up about the process and you can tell that they truly enjoy creating this show.

Orange is the New Black: Season Five is now availble on Blu-ray and DVD.