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'Orange Is the New Black' Season 2 review: Still a winner

Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne, left) and Red (Kate

Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne, left) and Red (Kate Mulgrew) in a scene from "Orange Is the New Black." Credit: AP / Ali Goldstein

THE SHOW "Orange Is the New Black"

WHEN|WHERE Second season begins streaming Friday on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT After last season's savage beatdown of Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning). Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) is in the "shu" and about to be taken away to parts unknown. The Internet has been full of reports about where and why, but I'm not in a spoilery mood, so best to check those out if your curiosity must be sated now.

But it is not too spoilery to indicate this trip will have profound consequences on her relationship with Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) – her sometime lover. Meanwhile, a new inmate arrives at Litchfield: She is Yvonne "Vee" Parker (Lorraine Toussaint of "Any Day Now") who used children as drug mules, and is back behind bars. And this will have major consequences for Galina Reznikov -- AKA Red (Kate Mulgrew) -- and Tasha Jefferson, "Taystee" (Danielle Brooks.)

Meanwhile, expect a deeper dive into the backstory of Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren (Uzo Aduba), specifically her childhood.

Piper, however, remains the focus and, as Larry's dad says, "you live on a slippery slope and for some reason, you can't can't stop doing raindances ... ." The opener, "Looks Blue, Tastes Red," was directed by Jodie Foster.

MY SAY Upon arrival last July, "Orange" was a (virtually) all-female lifeforce set loose upon a (virtually) all-male TV landscape. "Breaking Bad" was about to roll up five great seasons and all anybody seemed to talk about was “Walter White.”

What WAS this prison frivolity with the preppy inmate and her worries about getting the right toothpaste or whether fiance Larry (Jason Biggs) would get to visit her at Thanksgiving?

What "this" was, as it turns out, was a TV and cultural phenom, Netflix's most viewed homegrown series, which yielded half a dozen breakout stars including a transgender one (Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia Burset) and another best known as "Crazy Eyes."

Because hindsight is often more precise than foresight, it's easy now to see why this turned out to be such a phenomenon: "Orange" explores the bonds between women who aren't necessarily shackled to someone else, usually a man, or someone who is either defining them or confining them. Prison -- paradox alert! -- freed them to explore friendships, but also to explore other dynamics like power, sex, dominance, and submission that are typically the domain of those aforementioned "male" shows. It also freed them up to explore themselves. The performances were (and are) uniformly excellent. The writing was (and is) sharp, often funny. Or sometimes not so funny. ( "Orange" is many things but it is not so easily categorized. as drama or comedy, or "dramedy" or "dark comedy," or whatever else it's been called ... .)

I didn't much like "Orange" back then, but am now happy to say I was wrong, and say why: "Orange" is best approached as a binging project, not best "sampled" like some hors d'oeurve that floats by on a tray at a party. You need to dive in, get with the flow, and especially get into the stories -- there are many of those and all richly layered.

Finally this, if you loved last season, there's nothing so far to indicate you won't like the second just as much.

BOTTOM LINE Still winning at Litchfield.


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