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Hercules Is Thrilled To Be Locked Up With Netflix’s Superb New Jenji Kohan Lady Prison Dramedy ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK!!

Published at: July 11, 2013, 11 p.m. CST

I am – Hercules!!

An unusually witty hourlong about a woman’s correctional institution from “Weeds” mastermind Jenji Kohan, “Orange Is The New Black” depicts a hot yuppie blonde who unexpectedly finds herself serving out 15 months in prison for her decade-earlier role in a drug-smuggling scheme.

Having hungrily consumed in one afternoon the first six episodes made available to critics, I think I’d have to go way back – maybe as far back as the premiere of HBO’s “Game Of Thrones” two years ago – to remember when I’ve had more fun with a new series.

So, well done, Netflix. I sense your subscriber base swelling even as I type.

“Orange” is loosely based on the Piper Kernan memoir, but it feels like what we’d see if Kohan decided to finally depict the three lesbitastic off-screen years “Weeds” heroine Nancy Botwin served in prison on drug charges.

Though there’s a necessary darkness to the series, the prison to which Piper Chapman (“Mercy” vet Taylor Schilling) is exiled feels more like a shabby boarding school, with its own cliques, uniforms, classes, recesses and cafeteria food. There’s a decent amount of verbal conflict – some playful, some less so – but no actually shanking, at least in the early going.

The element of Chapman’s new life that seems to trouble her most, in fact, is that she’s locked up with Alex Vause (Laura Prepon, never sexier thanks to darkened hair and hipster eyewear), the estranged smuggling partner and scorned lesbian lover who provided the testimony that got Chapman tossed in stir.

So instead of “Born Innocent” shower rape and other types of unpleasant prison violence, we get a lot of entertaining and often likeable characters. One of my favorites is George “Pornstache” Mendez (Pablo Schreiber, who also played Nick Sobotka on “The Wire”), a guard who manages to be vulgar, cruel and truly funny all at once – much in the manner of R. Lee Ermay’s iconic drill sergeant in “Full Metal Jacket.”

More than a few of these beguiling characters sport recognizable faces, among them those of “American Pie” vets Natasha Lyonne and Jason Biggs (the latter gets a sight gag involving AMC’s “Mad Men” that got a huge laugh out of me), “Star Trek” icon Kate Mulgrew, “8 Mile” refugee Taryn Manning, and the great Todd Sussman (once Officer Shifflett on “Newhart”) – always hilariously deadpan as Chapman’s disapproving future father-in-law.

Today all 13 first-season episodes hit Netflix, which has already, quite wisely, ordered a second season.

Hitfix says:

... At first the show felt merely like a pleasant surprise — Kohan and company surpassing the most minimal of expectations — but as I began buzzing through one hour after another after another in that addictive Netflix way where episodes are stacked appealingly in front of you like Pringles, I was feeling genuine enjoyment. "Orange Is the New Black" is perhaps the least-heralded Netflix original so far. It's also the most satisfying. … I had no plans for this series beyond the couple of episodes I expected to watch before writing this review. Now, I can't wait to find time to watch the rest of this first season.

HuffPost TV says:

... "Orange" is one of the best new programs of the year, and the six episodes I've seen have left me hungry to see more. … It is mind-boggling that so many disparate things hang together so well in "Orange," which manages to be both subversive and serious, sweet and viciously barbed. …

Time says:

... You may come for the culture-clash cringe-comedy; it’s the real human stories that will have you captivated.

The New York Times says:

... As with the excellent first season of “Weeds,” the humor in “Orange” is often sharp, particularly when it focuses on Chapman’s self-absorption and neuroses. …

The Los Angeles Times says:

... this is the most impressive group of female characters ever assembled in a series, and it's not just window-dressing; each woman has a story and that story will be told. Netflix may wind up changing the world after all.

The San Francisco Chronicle says:

... In every case, there is an abiding feeling for character and authenticity that helps elevate Orange Is the New Black to a new definition of television excellence. …

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says:

... proves to be a smart, solid, entertaining effort for the online streaming service. No wonder this drama with comedic moments has already been renewed for a second season to debut in 2014. …

The Boston Herald says:

... Full disclosure: Netflix’s press site allowed this viewer to watch only one episode before crashing. Based on the premiere, however, the show appears to be an uneven hour that hesitates at going either for the full-throttle laugh or an authentic dramatic beat. …

The Boston Globe says:

... a funny, dramatically sound, poignant, and thoroughly addictive adventure …

USA Today says:

... a true rarity: a deft mix of comedy and drama in which the prison feels like a real place and the women are actual people …

Variety says:

... Although messy and at times uneven, the one-hour series feels like a bull’s-eye…

The Hollywood Reporter says:

... And so it was with a welcome sigh of relief and a telling amount of optimism that the first four episodes of Netflix’s new drama series Orange Is the New Black, premiering July 11, not only surprised but at various points astounded. … Balancing both light and searing comedy with a serious, insightful attempt at drama is a tough road. It may eventually be the undoing of Orange, but for now, Kohan’s manipulation of tone is incredibly impressive. … by all means self-surrender to it.

Thursday and Beyond. Netflix.

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