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‘Orange is the New Black’ resets season six

Interviews with Uzo Aduba and Danielle Brooks

Originally posted Wedneday, July 25, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

When Netflix released “Orange is the New Black” five years ago, the dramedy was heralded as groundbreaking TV, an ensemble of diverse women attempting to survive in prison. 

It won a raft of awards and helped built a foundation for Netflix to become the powerhouse it is today while also paving the way for shows like HBO’s “Insecure” and Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” 

Now entering its sixth season, OITNB, as it’s known, is no longer the new belle of the ball. It’s now a veteran series that took a story-telling gamble season five by focusing on a handful of days during a prison riot. The results were mixed. Many critics found it a bit of a mess from a story-telling perspective.

Season six, returning this Friday, July 27, scatters the women after the riot ended in tatters. Taystee’s efforts at reform and justice failed. Warden Caputo was suspended. The ten women who were captured in the pool shelter were placed in isolated cells in the Max prison down the street.

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A prison guard died and the governor wants blood. The investigators attempt to triangulate the women to ensure there are scapegoats who are put away for life. Alliances are broken. New ones are created. 

But amid the dismal aspects of the situation, the show always tries to throw in humor, much of it coming from a raft of new faces including the Max prison officers. (Three words: Fantasy Inmate Draft!) And yes, Mackenzie Phillips (“One Day at a Time”) is one of the fresh-faced baddies. 

Critics have been generally favorable so far of season six with a 73 out of 100 score so far on Metacritic. That’s up from 67 for season five. As Newsday’s Verne Gay wrote: “Fans who hated the fifth season should mostly love the sixth, which is a return to normal, or as ‘normal’ as ‘OITNB’ ever gets. But the end does feel a little bit closer.”

Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson, played by Danielle Brooks, has been a revelation, her character becoming one of the most compelling on the show. She doesn’t disappoint season six.  

As an actress. Brooks said in an interview last week while munching on lunch, this has been an opportunity of a lifetime. “They allow me to play so many colors of one character. It’s not one-note at all. It’s almost like this fish I’m eating has so many seasonings on it: paprika, salt, pepper, parsley. That’s exactly what I get to add to this character of Taystee throughout the season.”

Orange Is the New Black (JoJo Whilden / Netflix)

At the start of season six, Taystee is devastated by what happened, demoralized by her failure. “She is scared about the outcome. She fought the good fight for prison reform, for Poussey. Then she watched it crumble in front of her. Now we’re going to see how Taystee fights for herself this season and her freedom is on the line.”

Uzo Aduba, who plays Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, opens the show off her meds and with a series of hallucinations that feature a legendary game show host and later, the man who sings the “Cha Cha Slide.” She wasn’t in the room with the game show host but did get to meet DJ Casper. And she ends up with a most unlikely roommate. 

She also defended season five and creator Jenji Kohan’s choices. “Jenji has been consistently a woman who dares to push boundaries and push buttons and ask the tough questions,” Aduba said. “Time really needed to slow down for the viewer to hear and understand the women, particularly Taystee.” 

Aduba hopes fans will embrace season six. “She brings us into a whole new world,” she said. “Some people may think prison is almost as fun as camp. But she really brings home this season that there is nothing entertaining about what these women go through.” 

Sure, there are moments of buoyancy and light, but she always reminds viewers with the assaults, abuse and occasional death that this is prison. 

The show has been guaranteed a seventh (and perhaps final) season. Brooks hopes the theme will be restoration, that for at least some of these women, they can come out the other side with some hope and positivity. “Whatever Taystee goes through, I hope at the end of the day, she feels like it was worth fighting the fight.” 

The magic of Netflix is the show will live on long after the final scene was shot. People will be discovering it for the first time five years from now or decide to re-watch it ten years from now.

Aduba said she hopes viewers will appreciate how original the show was, that “it didn’t look like anything before it. It allowed women of all creed and color to exist as their authentic selves telling authentic stories... I hope this show will remind people that it wasn’t safe to make. It tackled topics that really had something to say. Amid all the comedy, there was a groundedness. I hope people understand that.”

Brooks hopes this show will help many of the actresses move on to other meaningful projects, noting that for most of them, this was their first big break.  

“I can be myself,” Aduba added. “I don’t have to be anything more than what God has created me to be. It continues to open doors for me.” 

ON NETFLIX

The entire season six of “Orange is the New Black”debuts Friday, July 27, 2018 for Netflix subscribers

About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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