Gut-wrenching but gripping and full of heart, the groundbreaking prison drama bows out by bringing back all the fan favourites even the chickens
There are not many shows that can lay claim to changing the television landscape during their lifetime, but Orange Is the New Black (Netflix) is one of them. It was the third series ever commissioned by Netflix, after House of Cards and the now-forgotten Hemlock Grove, and the first that made the most of the idea that an audience might be hungry to see representations of itself. Its stories crossed lines of class, race, sexuality and gender and mixed up comedy and drama to such an extent that it confused awards judges. It made stars of its huge cast, and set the template for the modern age of binge-watching. In 2013, when we realised we could watch 13 episodes in a weekend, OITNB figured out how to pace its stories according to overindulgence, rather than the traditional weekly drop-in.
It exits with this, its seventh and final season: easily the best and most self-assured since its debut. While OITNB was always ambitious, it occasionally tripped over its own shoelaces. It dedicated a whole season to a three-day prison riot, which was a bold idea whose execution collapsed into a mess of confusion. One of the main criticisms the show has faced is that it is too depressing. Its warm wit makes you love characters, but then the show does cruel, terrible things to them. Yes, its about incarcerated women, so it was never likely to be a cuddly rainbow explosion, but it is also entertainment, not a documentary about penal reform and there proved to be an upper limit to how much suffering viewers could manage. My moment came when Taystee took the fall for the riot, meaning one of the shows most beloved characters was dealt the blow of a life sentence without parole. After the earlier death of Poussey, the shows other most beloved character, it was a horror too far.
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