11 Things We Learned From the ‘Orange Is The New Black’ PaleyFest Panel

03.15.14 4 years ago 7 Comments

Kevin Parry for Paley Center for Media

Played out before an enthusiastic crowd on Friday (March 14) night, the PaleyFest debut for Netflix's “Orange Is The New Black” was a mixed-to-positive affair. 

Mostly positive.

The 70-minute panel, which proceeded by only a brief Season 1 clip reel, was a fantastic showcase for the chemistry of the deep ensemble cast, which was represented by 11 returning stars, one fresh face and one unannounced guest. Plenty of time was spent on the show's progressive stance for women, racial diversity and diversification of gender and sexual roles. Plenty of time was also spent buttering Netflix up, as seemingly the entire cast raved about the idea of binge-watching TV, but only referenced “House of Cards” as a show that might be binged. Paying near-religious tribute to series developer and showrunner Jenji Kohan, the “Orange” team celebrated their unique working environment and the freedom it gives them.

As a big fan of “Orange Is The New Black,” I quite enjoyed the frequently overlapping conversations and, for the most part, I bought the affection shown by the stars.

What the panel weirdly skipped over was any specificity, which meant that as a journalist covering the panel, I don't have a huge amount to report on. For a show that isn't really about plot twists, representatives of “Orange” have always been weirdly spoiler-phobic, so there literally is nothing concrete I can tell you about the plot of the second season. There will be continuing tensions in the relationship between Piper (Taylor Schilling) and Larry (Jason Biggs). Duh. And a new character, Vee (Lorraine Toussaint) will shake things up. OK. A list of which characters we'll learn more about included nearly all of the characters, but Kohan wouldn't say who will be getting flashback episodes.

In addition, almost none of the major plotpoints from last season were even mentioned. We somehow waited til the audience questions to even mention the cliffhanger from the first season, if not to say how it will impact Piper and Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) going forward, to talk about the character arcs that took them to that point. It was enough to say that the characters all changed in Season 1, but nobody wanted to dig deeply into how that change was orchestrated. 

Oh well. It didn't mean it was a bad panel. Not at all! It just means I may not have a lot to say. Click through for some things we learned from the PaleyFest panel. There are no meaningful Season 2 spoilers. 

1) Lorraine Toussaint's Vee may be awesome. 
For 2/3rds of the panel, Toussaint sat quietly and when she was first asked about her role, she barely raised the volume.

“As silent as I've been this evening is as silent as I am in Season 2. I certainly enter as such. There isn't very much I can tell you,” she purred. 

Since she felt it had been reported, Toussaint was able to say that Vee is “a street-wise drug maven who runs children.” Sensing a concerned murmur, she responded, “Judgement?” and quickly added “I believe she's misunderstood.” Calling Vee, “one of the more complex characters I've ever played and possibly one of the more difficult ones I've played,” Toussaint admitted, “I think it'll be interesting seeing how this character is received.” She teased that Vee, “plays and enjoys the game and is incredibly engaging and draws people into the big game.”

Toussaint also has fans amongst her new costars. Danielle “Taystee” Brooks said of acting with her “It felt like taking an Oprah Master Class,” while Kate “Red” Mulgrew added, “I had a lot to do with her and it was heavenly.”

2) There will be more Larry/Piper turmoil.
By the end of Season 1, after the Larry/NPR thing and the Piper/Alex thing, the relationship that started the series as our point-of-entry had become more-than-strained. Guess what? Jason Biggs isn't suddenly vanishing and so there will be more turmoil.

“”When we left Larry and Piper in Season 1, their relationship was precarious at best. For Larry, Season 2 is pretty much spent trying to figure out if the damage that was done to the relationship was irreparable, or if there's something that they can mend there. They really love each other. I really believe that,” Biggs says.

When the moderator asked about Piper and Larry's wedding — no, not a real thing, don't worry — Biggs cracked, “It's red. Like 'Game of Thrones.'”

3) “Orange Is The New Black” fans definitely love the supporting players.
Don't get me wrong. Taylor Schilling and Laura Prepon both got enthusiastic cheers from the crowd, both loud and prolonged. But neither star could come close to the roars that greeted a number of the other players. I'd say that Laverne Cox, Uzo Aduba and Kate Mulgrew probably got the most audible acclaim, but that would be suggesting that there wasn't much ado for the arrivals of Natasha Lyonne and Danielle Brooks.

4) The PaleyFest show was nearly stolen by a late arrival.
There was some mystery regarding the assembly of the panel. When an audience member asked how the Latina component of the show — Dascha Polanco, Jessica Pimentel, et al — was entirely unrepresented, Kohan responded, “”I didn't book this, so I don't know why.” 

But earlier in the panel, one of the actors on the stage noted that Big Boo — Lea DeLaria — was in the crowd. Put briefly on the Dolby Theatre screen DeLaria seemed unsure if she was supposed to go up to the dais or not, but finally decided that that's what the crowd wanted. She was correct. DeLaria then ran up in the direction of the stage and made two attempts to leap up, falling short each time. Finally, it was up to Jason Biggs and a member of the security team to pull DeLaria to the stage. “I'm here all night,” she cracked after getting her own seat at the end of a line of chairs that was already so long Biggs made several jokes about being unable to hear questions. 

DeLaria got one of the biggest laughs of the night when she said that she's signed 44 screwdrivers for fans. 

“Excuse me,” DeLaria mused. “Are you guys walking around with screwdrivers?”

5) Lea DeLaria can also be serious.
“I can't believe what's happen for me in my life,” DeLaria said, praising the conversations Big Boo has started about “butch.” “I've been this out person for a long time. But usually, when a 16-year-old boy walks up to me on the street the street, it's to spit in my face and call me a dyke and now it's to hug me and tell me how much he loves 'Orange Is The New Black.'”

Cox, who has been on a college speaking tour recently, spoke to the show's push for prison examination and reform and also to conversations it has sparked within the trans community and about it.

“For the trans community, a lot of folks are having a lot of conversations about trans people that they weren't having before the show,” she said.

Regarding all of the issues “Orange” addresses, Kohan noted, “It's not confronted. That's the whole point. It's natural. It's normative. It's presented as something that's part of that woman's life.”

[Six more things on Page 2!!!]

6) The real Piper Kerman didn't like the way the guards were depicted.
You may have thought that most of the guards on “Orange Is The New Black” were presented as variably corrupt and borderline disgusting, but Piper Kerman, whose book was the show's starting point, thought it was too rosy a portrayal.

“That was actually a real bone of content with Piper, who was like, 'You were way too kind to the guards. You're making them people.' She was very upset at first that they were who they were and that they had sympathetic aspects, because that was not her experience of it.” She added, “We want everyone on the show to be a whole person.”

Michael Harney, who plays the initially sympathetic, but increasingly creepy Healy added, “By us being able to be whole people, we're able to expose some of the inner conflicts that people who work inside these places deal with. It's not so much about being true to life, but it's about being true to be able to express the inner life that they go through.”

“Everyone is working within a corrupt system,” Cox noted.

Schilling chimed in, “We're setting up this situation where nobody really can win.”

“They're all in prison. The guards are in prison, too,” Kohan said.

7) Kate Mulgrew doesn't know what Red did to land where she is. Jenji Kohan does.

“I have no idea what my actual crime is,” Mulgrew admitted. “Acting,” she cracked.

The mystery isn't a bad thing. But it may be a confusing thing.

“It works for me as an actress,” Mulgrew said. “It absolutely works. I don't need to know why it works. And I don't understand why that works, Jenji. Can you tell me why it works?” 

Kohan replied, “You are Red. You seem to have a sense. You've eaten her alive, so it doesn't even matter.”

Here, Kohan told Mulgrew that she'd written a scene fully explaining what Red did, but she threw it away. This intrigued Mulgrew, of course.

“Does it have something to do with my deep-freeze?” she inquired. 

“Not specifically,” Kohan said. 

Make of that what you will.

8) Binge-watching has changed Season 2 of “Orange Is The New Black.” Slightly.
When Jenji Kohan crafted season one on Season 1, she was coming off of her time on “Weeds” and she didn't let the Netflix “release everything at once” model come into the equation.

“It didn't initially, because I had no idea how people would consume it,” she said.

What she realized, though, is that with people watching the show in multiple-episode helpings, it isn't always necessary to see every character in every episode. 

“There was some holding back story a little bit,” she said. Whereas with people watching shows with seven days between airings leaving a character or a storyline out for an episode could be damaging, “The way they're consuming it, you show up later that day, so it's not like you're missing.”

It's unclear how viewers will experience or notice what Kohan calls “kind of a luxury.” 

9) Everybody binges.
Uzo Aduba watched the second season of “House of Cards” in 14 hours. 

“I watched half on Saturday night and finished it on Sunday,” Cox added. 

Others described the magic of getting hooked on a Netflix binge and forgetting the world around you.

“I think there should be a warning halfway through that's like, 'Change your underpants,'” Yael Stone joked. That's a good line.

10) Jason Biggs is a pragmatic judge of Jason Biggs.
Slightly on the outside of the discussion due to both his distance from the moderator and because of the heavy concentration on grrl power — “”Let me know when you want to note the men, too,” he chided at some point — Biggs had to find his moments to shine.

Fortunately, the moderator accidentally asked him to give his take on “Jason” instead of “Larry.”

“I have a few thoughts: Kinda handsome, a little quirky. Kinda funny at times, not a bad actor, not the best,” he cracked.

He added, “I think he has a future, but he may have peaked.”

Biggs was also the only actor on the panel who didn't have a funny story about people recognizing from “Orange.”

Regarding fan interactions, he observed, “Oh, they still call me 'Pief***er.'”

11) We know nothing new about how much Laura Prepon will be on this season, but she's glad you cared.
Fans freaked out when it was first reported that Laura Prepon's Alex would only be in one or two episodes this season and then that presence expanded to four episodes and then to a nebulous “most” of the season. We learned nothing new on Friday night, but rest assured that Prepon heard your concern.

“When there was a bit of a scheduling conflict, the love that I got from the fans was really, really amazing,” she said. She later added a “flattering” to that amazing.

Anyway… I'm sleepy. “Orange Is The New Black” will return to Netflix on Friday, June 6. I can't wait.

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