How To Manage The 'Orange Is The New Black' Attack

Last night I watched the first episode of the second season of “Orange is the New Black,” the Netflix original series that some in the media would have us believe is the best thing to come along since penicillin.

Why, just this morning a number of anchors and others on NBC’s “Today” show were talking with great excitement about how “Orange” “blew up” on social media since Netflix dropped its entire second season on Friday -- as if something “blowing up” on social media these days is somehow an extraordinary thing, and they were bursting with tiny tales of people binge-watching it over the weekend. The collective content of the tweets and Facebook posts to which they were referring was actually a bit depressing, in part because the weather this past weekend in much of the country was spectacular and not at all conducive to sitting indoors for two days staring at screens of any size. And then there were all those young people revealing that they spent their time watching “Orange,” something that will be available to them for as long as they live, rather than studying for finals, the outcomes of which could impact them for years to come.

Plainly, I don’t share the utterly unrestrained enthusiasm most people have for “Orange,” but I do enjoy it very much and I admire it more than just about anything else on television, even in the medium’s second Golden Age. That has a lot to do with the diversity of its casting, which is so distinctive as to be almost breathtaking. I say that not simply because so many people of different ethnicities are included in its cast, but also because so many of them are women “of a certain age” as they say with a shudder in Hollywood, and because few of them as they are made to appear on this series would be at home in a fashion magazine. I don’t think there’s a size zero or a hair extension in the group. For these reasons alone “Orange” is a marvelous accomplishment.

I might add that it is smartly written, crisply directed and flawlessly performed by the actors referred to above. I will also note, with a minor spoiler alert attached, that the first episode of its second season is a sizzling showcase for “Orange” star Taylor Schilling, who in that one hour is even more impressive than she was in all of Season One, when she was pretty damn good to begin with.

But the fervor with which critics and reporters from a variety of entertainment magazines and Web sites try to top each other in their bubbling praise for this show can be off-putting. It’s as if there is nothing else as good on television, or that there never was anything of its caliber before “Orange” came along, and that all of our society is obsessed with this show. Let’s remember that nobody outside of the most remote offices at Netflix HQ knows how well the first season of this show actually performed, because for reasons known only to its executives the company doesn’t release ratings or other information pertinent to audience measurement.

It has been reported that Netflix has claimed that “Orange” was responsible during the last year for a significant bump in its subscriber base, but how can that be known for sure? I’m under the impression that Netflix’s other big originals, including “House of Cards,” “Arrested Development” and even “Hemlock Grove,” are popular programs that might have lured new subscribers. And then there’s the whole cord-cutting thing, something I have been considering since the latest more-money-for-nothing-more bump in my cable bill.

I generally watch “Orange” with my neighbors, as it is one of those shows that are a lot of fun to react to in the company of others. We decided last night that we would do our best not to rush through “Orange” -- rather, we’re going to attempt to watch no more than one episode at a time and no more than two or three per week. I’m not sure if we will stick by this decision (I might have to toss it for professional reasons), but we’re going to try, because we (separately and together) have binged on other shows and then been left unhappily waiting an entire year to enjoy more of them.

I totally get the binge thing as the means to catch up on a show one might have missed before a new season begins – especially if it’s the show’s final season. I believe there was more bingeing of “Breaking Bad” in the months leading up to its final eight episodes than there had been throughout its run on AMC. But I don’t see the harm of enjoying a show in the old-school manner, as in one episode per week, which makes it a part of one’s life for several months rather than several days. Right now I like to imagine savoring “Orange” at a leisurely pace over the summer, in the way that I will watch CBS’ “Under the Dome” and “Extant,” USA Network’s “Satisfaction,” Syfy’s “Dominion” and AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire,” not to mention Fox’s “24,” to name a few summer treats.

The truth is, sometimes binge-watching can work against a show. To use two Netflix series as examples, since it is the programming service that propelled the term into the mainstream, the horror show “Hemlock Grove” became a slow-moving, incomprehensible bore when episodes from its first season were watched in batches, while Season Two of “House of Cards” became monotonous in its depiction of Frank and Claire Underwood, the ruthless Washington, D.C. power couple played to perfection by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, mowing down one innocent, hard-working person after another in their quest for domination.

I can’t say if I would have had a better response to either show if I had watched them one episode at a time and thought more about each one in-between viewings. But as it happened, there are two examples when a binge went bust.

Tags: netflix, streaming, tv
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