Tuned In: ‘Orange Is the New Black' maintains high quality

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The most anticipated returning series this summer probably isn’t one that is even on TV. Rather, it’s season two of Netflix’s online streaming series “Orange Is the New Black,” which is available to Netflix subscribers today.

Netflix refuses to release numbers that might correlate with ratings, but if you take Netflix executives at their word, then “Orange” did better in its premiere week last July than any other Netflix original series, which includes “House of Cards” and the fourth season of “Arrested Development.”

A prison-set drama (with lots of comedy) that’s ostensibly about middle-class Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), who gets jailed for drug trafficking, “Orange” is actually one of the most culturally diverse series made today. A blond, white woman may be the lead, but the show’s true stars are its cast of dozens of ethnically diverse supporting characters.

Fans of season one be advised: You won’t see most of your favorite characters in the first episode (they’re back in episode two), which takes Piper out of solitary — she was there for beating an aggressive Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) in the first-season finale — and sends her on a dizzying, dismaying journey.

To give away why an inmate gets transported away from her prison home would ruin the aura of fear that grips Piper, and, potentially, viewers who care about her plight.

Suffice it to say, Piper and viewers will understand what’s going on by the end of the first hour, which also introduces a full roster of new, colorful characters who fit in swimmingly with the show’s established vibe and predilection for oddballs.

The season premiere also gives viewers more insight into Piper’s decision-making process through flashbacks to her good-girl childhood, where doing “the right thing” didn’t always work out best for her.

Episode two returns viewers to Litchfield and the cast of inmates there with flashbacks for Taystee (Danielle Brooks) that pave the way for the introduction of a new fly in the ointment, played by actress Lorraine Toussaint (“Any Day Now”).

Among the first six episodes Netflix made available for review are flashbacks that give some heartbreaking insight about scene-stealing Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba) and forthright Poussey (Samira Wiley).

Just as in TV’s first flashback-heavy, multi-character drama “Lost,” it’s the flashbacks that deepen and humanize the characters, and that makes “Orange” a unique and outstanding series. Piper’s story may draw viewers to the show, but it’s her fellow inmates who make time spent inside this women’s prison worthwhile.

‘Power' debuts on Starz

This weekend premium cable’s Starz debuts its latest drama, “Power” (9 p.m. Saturday), an overly familiar story about a gangster who wants to go legit but gets pulled back into dirty dealing. “Power” might be an entertaining enough soap for viewers who aren’t tired of antihero gangster yarns.

The series follows James “Ghost” St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick, “The Guardian”), a New York drug dealer who has opened a hot, hoppin’ club with best friend/business partner Tommy Egan (Joseph Sikora, “Jack Reacher”). Ghost wants to go legit and ditch the drug trade; Tommy’s not so enthused about giving up the thug life, which is depicted through violence and vigorous sex scenes.

Naturally, as these stories often go, Ghost is torn between his new career as a budding club impresario and his devotion to the family business, which is also embraced by his wife, Tasha (Naturi Naughton, “The Playboy Club,” “Mad Men”), who is unimpressed with the club’s opening-night revenue.

Created by Courtney Kemp Agboh (“The Good Wife”) and executive produced by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson,” who has a recurring role (although he’s not in the pilot episode), “Power” hits all the themes viewers have come to expect from a show about gangsters. There’s even a late reveal about a relationship that might undermine Ghost’s efforts to stay ahead of the law.

“Power” is fine but it doesn’t live up to its title. It’s not a powerful drama because viewers have largely seen all its tricks, plots and character relationships before.


After renewing “The Arsenio Hall Show” for a second season earlier this year, its syndicator announced late last Friday that declining ratings have led to the show being canceled.

Syfy renewed “Bitten” for a 10-episode second season to air in 2015.

Showtime renewed “Penny Dreadful” for a second season to air next year.

Channel surfing

AMC’s “Hell on Wheels” returns for its fourth season at 9 p.m. Aug. 2, with episodes running through Oct. 4 before taking a break and returning for the balance of its season on Nov. 8. … AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire” got off to a soft ratings start with 1.2 million viewers Sunday night. … Hugh Jackman hosts Sunday’s “Tony Awards” (8 p.m., CBS) with Kevin Macon, Wayne Brady and Carnegie Mellon University grad Matt Bomer among the presenters. … HBO’s “Veep” closes out its third season Sunday with back-to-back episodes at 10 and 10:30 p.m. … WQED’s “iQ: smartparent” returns for a new episode (8 p.m. Thursday) about media-savvy dads and their projects for children.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about “Mad Men,” “White Collar” and “Drop Dead Diva.” This week’s Tuned In Journal includes posts on “Fargo,” “Murder in the First,” “Game of Thrones” and “Jennifer Falls.” Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about “Halt and Catch Fire,” “Undateable,” “The Normal Heart” and “Game of Thrones.” Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.

TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.

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