Review: Orange Is the New Black Returns With a Bang

Laverne Cox and Uzo Aduba shine in new season.  

Posted: 05/30/2014 01:45 PM EDT
Laverne Cox, Uzo Aduba

Fans of Orange Is the New Black are eagerly awaiting the return of Piper, Crazy Eyes, Red and Sophia on June 6. The Netflix series was all the rage last summer, but — similar to a musician's sophomore effort — the second time around can be tricky. Understandably, fans are wondering if the popular show can recreate the magic of its groundbreaking first season.  

In case you were living under a social media rock last summer, Orange Is the New Black follows the story of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a privileged woman who is sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for helping transport drugs with her then-girlfriend. In prison, we get to know a flock of Piper's fellow inmates, allowing the series to brilliantly tackle sexuality, gender identity, racism, nationalism, sexism, mental illness and the ongoing fight for love. Just a small Netflix series starring unknowns, the show was a smash on Twitter, turning many of the women — like breakout star andTIME cover girl Laverne Cox — into bona fide stars.

Season two returns on June 6 and the yearlong wait is worth every second. With superb writing, nuanced storytelling and award-worthy acting, Orange Is the New Black is the binge fix for the summer. With the first episode directed by Jodie Foster, the second season starts strong. But outside of the first episode, much of the focus pulls away from Piper. The heart of the story is the journeys of the eclectic women, with Piper acting as the vessel and even becoming disposable at times.  

We get to know the backstories of our favorite characters, like Gloria Mendoza (Selenis Leyva), Lorna Morello (Yael Stone) and "Crazy Eyes," played by Uzo Aduba.  Plus, there is the addition of veteran actress Lorraine Toussaint, who takes the villainess role to new heights as Vee.  

The series features phenomenal acting, which will hopefully receive some award love beyond Taylor Schilling as Piper. For example, Juilliard-trained Samira Wiley as Poussey, a lesbian woman struggling with loving her heterosexual best friend, was thought-provoking and quietly moving — proving homophobia can come from people who supposedly "tolerate" you. Lorraine Toussaint is overdue for recognition and proves she can annihilate any character. But the thespian killer of the show is Aduba as Crazy Eyes, with a backstory you have to see to believe. The Boston University alum has the potential to be the next Viola Davis.  

The series is breaking new ground on many levels, but one cannot thank the creators enough for helping to make veteran actress and activist Laverne Cox a household name. Cox's humorous, layered and never-before-seen portrayal of a Black transgender woman in mainstream media will go down in the history books. Cox is the Nichelle Nichols of 2014, who was a first of her kind for African-Americans in television and tore down barriers as Uhura in Star Trek. Cox made history this week as the first transgender woman on the cover of TIME.

The true allure of Orange Is the New Black is diverse storytelling like we rarely see on our televisions. But the characters aren't tokens, whether the women are Latino, Black, lesbian, trans — there is a unique authenticity. The show is written from an insider perspective, allowing viewers from all experiences to laugh, cry and remember that we are much more connected than we acknowledge.

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(Photos: Netflix)

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