11 Things We Learned From the 'Orange Is The New Black' PaleyFest Panel
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."