The Buzz: ‘Orange Is The New Black’ Season 6 Starts Off Slow

Orange is the New Black is back for its sixth season, and it’s not off to a great start. Mired with pacing issues, overacting, and strange decisions, it’s a far cry from the amazing show it once was. It’s not all bad though. A few new characters are able to breathe some life into the series and even bring in a couple of laughs. Unfortunately, one new character feels like a rehash of a season one fan favorite antagonist and it’s hard to say whether or not he will be able to live up to the original. There’s still some enjoyment to be had in Orange is the New Black season six, but it feels like the show is only a few bad episodes away from collapsing in on itself.

The first eight minutes of the premiere episode, Who Knows Better Than I, is almost unwatchable. I get that the intent was to show the world through Suzanne’s eyes, but the show-runners took it way too far. It felt like they were trying their best to be artsy, but it’s so over the top it makes the episode feel like a cartoon. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, for a show that started out so much more grounded, it’s a disappointing change. The fact that the scene drags on so long doesn’t help matters either. Uzo Aduba’s overacting feels in-genuine and much like the man questioning her, I did not believe her performance. This portrayal seems like it was written by someone who has never had interactions with an actual mentally ill person before. Instead, Suzanne has become a stereotypical crazy person. The only part of this portrayal of craziness I liked was the reveal at the end, but despite this good twist, it was not enough to make up for the agonizingly long opening minutes.

The show even gets meta about the fact that Piper Chapman is extremely annoying and has become one dimensional. Unfortunately, acknowledging the shortcomings of your series in an episode is not the same as actually fixing said shortcomings. While the show is very much an ensemble at this point, Piper was originally the lead and has always been at the forefront of the show. Despite this, she is by far one of the most unlikable characters on Orange is the New Black and her continued obsession with Alex only drives Piper’s likability down further in this first episode. Likely more than half of Piper’s dialogue this episode was “Where’s Alex?” I get that they’re trying to show Piper’s concern, but wow, does it get insanely annoying very quickly.

Another issue is the pacing. After the whole last season consisted of the inmates holding the prison hostage, I was hoping this season would move forward a little quicker. Season five felt very drawn out and season six doesn’t look to be going anywhere fast anytime soon either. I understand taking the premiere episode to set up the new location and what the conflicts are, but part of me just wants to return to the minimum security I know and love. Sure a new location means new characters, but it also means plenty of old and beloved characters get left behind. Considering this is an ensemble show, that’s a pretty big deal. It’s hard to say whether the location change was worth it or not, but I can’t help but shake the feeling it was just a desperate attempt to keep people watching. 

One positive to this new season was the addition of fun and despicable new characters added to the cast. Two more fun and lighthearted additions were the guards Alverez and Copeland. Their obsession with winning the inmate fantasy league and their general bumbling attitudes were quite entertaining to watch. Anytime they appeared on screen I found myself engaged in the scene. As for a more despicable addition we have C.O. Hellman. As you might garner from his name, he is not a nice guy. He’s basically an Officer Mendez 2.0. Watching the inmates scheming and actually managing to take down Mendez was very satisfying in season one, so it’s my hope it will be just as satisfying seeing Hellman get the same treatment.

Overall, it feels as the show has become more about one-upping itself from each big moment instead of naturally progressing the story. While the show always had its bigger moments, what kept me watching was the interpersonal relationships built up between the intimates. The crazy ludicrous things that happened were just a byproduct of the culmination of these different relationships. Now it feels the other way around. The relationships feel less at the forefront as the main goal of the show seems to have changed into seeing what crazy predicament it can get its characters into next.

Even though Orange is the New Black still holds some quality, it feels as though its glory days are over. The show might be able to limp on for a few more seasons before it becomes awful, but it’d be a shame to watch what was once one of the best shows on Netflix go out in a way like this. I would much rather see the show end while it still has some dignity and fan support behind it. No show should go on forever, and Orange is the New Black season six proves this.