Worst to Best
Orange Is The New Black

Orange Is The New Black is one of the few modern television series that gets watched religiously here at The Anorak Zone, joining a small, select group of luminaries including Peep Show and Rastamouse.


by
THE ANORAK
JULY 2015


UPDATED JUNE 2016: Set inside a women's prison where the cast experience both personal dramas and flashbacks of their lives, the ultimate "worst to best" guide would really be a ranking of all 52 episodes. While that may one day happen (and has taken place for season four), for now we'll settle with the shortest-ever article in this series, instead focussing on each season. DVDs of the series are available via the online Anorak Zone Store.

4 Season Three (2015)

In 2015 I stated that the third season's last place ranking 'shouldn't be taken as a slight against its quality'. With a year's hindsight, and season four returning back to form, it looks even worse. Far more meandering than the other seasons, while it was only natural that the series would need to take a breather from 2014's intensity, it lacked true dramatic hooks, something that even the sexuality of Ruby Rose couldn't fully distract from. Many of the plot lines are overstated and overlong (the silly "religion of Norma" the main offender), but even when the show is below-par it's still arguably one of the best on television today.
     There are various narrative dead ends and wrong turns, not least the contrivance of Nicholls' exit, or the waste of Lori Petty's character. Even the flashback sequences begin to involve lesser characters who haven't really made anyone sit up and take notice. (In Chang's case, the actual point of her story). And the season does take at least half a dozen episodes to get into gear, struggling with the main storyline of the prison losing its funding, which is political, but never quites settles into a convincing narrative. While the wait ultimately pays off (just about), there's also the feeling that some of the characters are being written to order.
     Even by the show's comedy-drama standards, there are scenes and motivations that seem far-fetched, and there are, sadly, some regular characters that feel played out, although it's a strong year for Sophia, and, particularly, Pennsatucky.

3 Season Four (2016)

At some point I'll probably revisit all of the series here at The Anorak Zone and be able to really assess just how well season four stands up against the first two. There's the feeling that they were stronger because the show was still fresh, but season four managed to shake things up and keep them interesting. There's probably just a hair's breadth between the top three here, with season four a return to form. For this particular season I've ranked it episode by episode (as, in hindsight, I should have done with them all... maybe one day) and the FULL review of the season can be read HERE.

2 Season One (2013)

The most consistent and genuinely funniest season, this is where we first meet all of the Litchfield Penitentiary inmates. Being the introductory season, it naturally focusses more on central character Piper Chapman, telling the story of the breakdown of her marriage and her destructive relationship with lover Alex Vause. And although the other characters are essentially support at this stage, we still get to share their often-heartbreaking stories, such as the doomed arc of Miss Claudette, or a suicide in the prison.
     There's an almost cinematic intent to a lot of Orange Is The New Black's episodes, with instalments fading out to various soundtrack choices. A stylish touch is having the season push Chapman over the edge and into true criminality, savagely beating a fellow inmate while Christmas carols play the credits out.

1 Season Two (2014)

The darkest season, and most difficult to watch. The various plot strands are tied together with the arrival of the series' brutal sociopathic "villain", Vee, and the way former friends physically attack one another can be painful viewing. And although essentially "the Vee show" for the year, it adds surprising depths to its cast of supporting characters via the flashbacks, including Lorna and Suzanne.
     It's not without its flaws – some elements can be illogically contrived (they trade bathrooms on race when we've seen them share bathrooms from the start? Would Big Boo really turn on her friends?) and the central character is pushed out of the main narrative for the duration. But it's one that adds real drama to proceedings, and ultimately reflects on the nature of karmic balance in the universe. The ending is one of the most touching and satisfying in the programme, justifying the feature-length finale. Wisely, the series hasn't attempted to "top" this one, and drawn back... if such violence escalated each year, it would leave the programme with nowhere to go.