Orange Is The New Black season 3 episode 1, review: The Ross and Rachel-ness of Piper and Alex is starting to grate

Netflix series plunges headfirst into Litchfield's Mother's Day for season opener

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The Independent Culture

All 14 episodes of Orange Is The New Black season 3 will be served up on Netflix in the morning, much like an oversized birthday cake from colleagues. Do you just have one slice, eat about half then pick it back up in a week's time, or just put it to one side for now until you can consume it in one go from the shame-free cocoon of your duvet?

It's definitely a preferable distribution method to the weekly drip feed of scheduled TV, but demolishing a series so quickly does leave you with a touch of last season amnesia. This is particularly apparent in the first episode of season 3, which barely references the ending of the last, instead plunging headfirst into Litchfield's latest distraction: Mother's Day.

Deviating from the usual 'different back story each week' format, we see mini-flashbacks for about a dozen characters, who are all driven to dwell on their past even more than usual as mothers, daughters and granddaughters come to visit.

The atmosphere is initially jubilant, as the visitors room is swapped for the recreational yard and games of crazy golf, but dulls once sutured relationships start to burst and the event's hollowness sinks in. The kids beating a piñata that turns out to be empty (the guards forgot to fill it with candy) serves as the perfect metaphor for it, which Soso annoyingly vocalises.

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That's the one problem with OITNB, that it can often feel a little too on-the-nose in its realisations and the causal links between inmates' backstories and their current predicaments, but I guess it's necessary when trying to juggle so many characters and pay off all of their sub-plots.

The palpable hatred for Larry Bloom amongst fans so far seems to have driven him out of season 3, which is a shame given that viewer venom is the mark of any good villain. With no Larry or Polly or Piper's brother in sight, at least initially, it will be interesting to see how this season provides that necessary stark juxtaposition with the 'real world'.

The Ross and Rachel-ness of Piper and Alex is starting to grate too (though Ruby is on the way) and its now the secondary characters who are the more intriguing. It's particularly great to see Uzo Aduba back as Crazy Eyes, who you can just tell is having the absolute best time in the part and rightly picked up a bunch of awards for her performance in the last season.

Episode one feels curiously standalone, but given that the next 13 are ready and waiting for you it will not fail to hook you in to season 3. There is a niggling sense that OITNB isn't really 'going anywhere' at times, but maybe that's as it should be given the predicament of its characters.

@christophhooton

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