bestof2014-12

Every day between now and Christmas morning, we’ll share the twenty-five stories that engaged, enchanted, amused and amazed us the most in 2014. If you missed them, now’s your chance to catch up; if you’re looking for a gift for the wonk in your life, then these are our most enthusiastic recommendations!

Today, Orange Is the New Black*.

The first season of Orange Is The New Black was a revelation. It was edgy, purposeful, and possessed of a clean authorial voice that was unlike anything of network television. It delivered on the promise of the new Netflix model: independent production, delivered directly to viewers. This was the beginning of something big.

At the same time, the first season was not an unmitigated success. Several of the storylines were flat, the tonal shifts didn’t always feel deliberate, and Piper’s poor-me passivity weighed down the show’s emotional heart. Oh, and let’s not talk about Jason Biggs and the wasted moments spent outside the prison.

The second season, though, was a step up in two important ways: Piper was more active, and she had to carry less of the plot, because we broadened our focus to include the rest of the ensemble. The central conflict of the second season — Red vs. Vee — had precious little to do with Piper at all, and that was part of it’s great strength. The battle for Taystee’s loyalty, Vee’s hideous manipulation of Suzanne, Lorna’s heartbreaking collapse into desperation and vulnerability… none of these stories were undercut by a need to orbit Piper, who was, in turn, liberated by her relative anonymity, and got to explore her own storyline with more charm and space than previously possible.

Not every storyline is successful, of course: Larry remains a parasitic drain on a story he has no part in, and the ongoing soap opera of Daya and Bennett was much less charming than it was in the first season. But these are distractions: the core set of interactions are among the sweetest, funniest and most profound that you’ll see on television this year.

Get it now: Orange Is the New Black.

* The second season of OITNB isn’t available on DVD yet — which is baffling — so this link is the the season one set. You can catch up on season two if you’re a Netflix subscriber by clicking here.