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'Orange Is the New Black' review: Orange is the new 'blah'

From left, Taylor Schilling, Dascha Polanco, Vicky Jeudy

From left, Taylor Schilling, Dascha Polanco, Vicky Jeudy and Yael Stone in a scene from Netflix's "Orange is the New Black." Credit: Netflix

THE SERIES "Orange Is the New Black"

WHEN|WHERE Begins streaming Thursday on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT In February 2004, Piper Kerman entered the Federal Correctional Facility in Danbury, Conn., to serve a 15-month sentence for drug trafficking and money laundering. Her book, "Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison," arrived in 2010. And today, Netflix's 13-episode adaptation, created by Jenji Kohan ("Weeds") and starring Taylor Schilling as "Piper Chapman," debuts.

Piper is a perky blond who chooses jail over trial for a transgression committed years earlier when she was in the arms of her lesbian lover, here named Alex (Laura Prepon), who was the brains of the two-woman gang. In the years since, "Pipes" has gone straight in more ways than one -- her boyfriend, Larry (Jason Biggs), drops her off at prison, and a new life begins. First challenge: How to get cook Galina "Red" Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew) on her side after insulting her prison-issued cuisine.

MY SAY "Orange" begins with one of the older tricks in the TV book, or at least the pay cable one: Nudity, and a lot of it, then a lesbian love scene or two. The hook thus baited, and the audience's interest -- or that portion comprising adolescent males -- piqued, the long, slow slog begins. And "Orange" is a slog, where minutes seem to stretch into hours, hours into days ... and the drip, drip, drip of prison time becomes its own reality. What's the problem? Among many, Schilling's performance, which is alternately mewling and bemused -- either that of a saint stoically absolving her sins or a budding sitcom writer trolling for material. It's a tiresome act, and so -- very quickly -- is "Pipes." The show improves when the camera moves on to the other inmates, and there are a few accomplished pros here, like Mulgrew and Michael Harney, who plays the prison warden.

But "Orange" is also a comedy that wants to be a drama -- especially one that humanizes those around Chapman. It's a balancing act that occasionally -- far too occasionally -- works.

BOTTOM LINE "Orange" is the new blah.


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