'Orange Is the New Black' Season 2: What the Critics Are Saying

Orange Is The New Black Uzo Aduba Crazy Eyes - H 2014

Orange Is The New Black Uzo Aduba Crazy Eyes - H 2014

Orange Is the New Black released its second season on Netflix at midnight on Friday, meaning that the ladies of Litchfield are back in action behind bars.

Based on a true story (and a book) by Piper Kerman called Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison, Jenji Kohan's critically acclaimed series returns with Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, Natasha Lyonne, Jason BiggsLaverne Cox, Danielle Brooks, Taryn Manning, Kate Mulgrew and more. 

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The first season centered on Piper Chapman (Schilling), the privileged, engaged New Yorker who surrendered herself for a crime committed 10 years ago, with her then girlfriend, Alex (Prepon). While she found herself reuniting with Alex in prison, she also crossed paths with a slew of comical characters with diverse backgrounds and motives for crime that are more gray than black and white.

Read what top critics are saying about the second season of Orange Is the New Black below.

The Hollywood Reporter's chief TV critic Tim Goodman says in his review that in season one, "what separated Orange Is the New Black was the vast and talented cast, the multitude of characters who crossed races, age, sexual preference, weight, education and world perspectives in a drastic, enthralling cross-pollination that never let the series grow stale and, strangely, made it more compelling each hour." Accordingly, "season two sees [Kohan] raising that bar quite a bit, as the series shifts away from the Piper story arc to what's happening in the prison based on race. New characters stir the pot, and old ones branch out in newer directions.

"But perhaps what's most notable about the first part of season two is how Kohan is more confident in her storytelling because she laid the foundation of these diverse characters in season one while also keeping the A storyline — Piper’s shift from church mouse to aggressive, survival-mode inmate — intriguing. Now she can give more depth to the worldview that's present in Orange Is the New Black, one of the most vibrant, surprising dramas you'll find anywhere ... season two of Orange Is the New Black delivers immediately, stays relevant and entertaining, and gives the impression that it has learned a lot of life lessons inside the system." 

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Mike Hale of The New York Times writes that for the first episode of the season, "Kohan; her co-writer, Tara Herrmann; and the director Jodie Foster (yes, that Jodie Foster) turn out one of the series’s best chapters," while the show altogether "can be applauded for giving opportunities to a wide range of talented actresses and for representing a multiplicity of ethnicities and orientations in its characters." Additionally, "it’s worth noting that some of the best, most natural writing in the show is done for the small group of male characters, including the corrections officer played by Michael Harney and the handyman played by Matt Peters." 

The  Los Angeles Times' Robert Lloyd, who originally resisted the series, notes that the "general spreading of sympathy, of going past stereotype to character — even with characters who began as stereotypes — is one of the best and most impressive things about the series. It matters that it is set in a minimum security prison, whose inmates are more luckless than evil, more preyed upon than predators. There is tension, but of a quiet sort, and much sweetness. For all its crime-and-punishment underpinnings, it's a story, finally, of what makes a community, and how we break out of our tribes and assignments to make a little human contact." 

The  Washington Post's Hank Stuever explains that "the show is often nasty and sometimes distastefully cruel to its characters, but it also easily forges a deep and authentic emotional connection to the viewer. There are frequent reminders that it’s as much of a dark comedy as it is a social study," also praising the flashbacks of characters played by Uzo Aduba and Yael Stone. "On a not-so-subliminal level, Orange is asking us to consider all the deplorable, despicable male TV characters we’ve embraced over the years and, in turn, demonstrate a similarly complex empathy for the women doing time at Litchfield." 

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Time's James Poniewozik compares the satisfying complexities of Litchfield to the immersive world of HBO's Game of Thrones. "Like Thrones, Orange is partly a story of territory, allegiance and clans, here divided largely by race ... What Jenji Kohan does in this series is a bit like painting landscapes on a grain of rice; she shows that with enough attention to detail, the tiniest canvas can capture the universe."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee