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Thirteen-hour sentence: Netflix makes prisoners of us all

By Nick Mullen / Staff Writer

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Fans of Netflix’s hit original series “Orange Is The New Black” were imprisoned by the desire to binge-watch all 13 episodes of the new season before the finale on June 11.

Binge-watching has changed the way that audiences watch television. Online streaming services like Netflix and Hulu make binge-watching easy by releasing full seasons of television shows at once. Many television viewers, myself included, prefer to binge-watch because it lets us watch full seasons in a matter of hours or days. Instead of watching shows as they air weekly on television, viewers can binge-watch shows around their own schedules.

Newer shows, like “Orange,” are designed to take advantage of the popularity of binge-watching by including more complex plotlines and characters, because the stories are still fresh in the viewers’ minds.

“Orange,” based on Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name, stars Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman, an upper-middle class woman whose life is disrupted when she is sentenced to 15 months in a federal prison for carrying a suitcase full of drug money to her former girlfriend Alex Vause, played by Laura Prepon. Piper then struggles to deal with the pressures of isolation from the outside world, with her strained relationship with her fiancé and prison life.

The third season of “Orange” ditched much of the R-rated, sexually explicit content, including numerous sex scenes between inmates, for more flashbacks and character history. Each episode of the third season featured a specific character and showed flashbacks into their pre-prison lives. To further complicate the plot, “Orange” also added many well-known guest stars like actress Mary Steenburgen, model Ruby Rose, who played the inmate Stella, a love interest for Piper, and comedian Mike Birbiglia, as the new corporate boss of the prison.

While the first two seasons focused on a few main storylines, the third season spends less time focusing on just a few storylines or a small handful of characters. Instead, the third season focuses on fleshing out its already expansive character base.Almost every main and recurring character have their own storyline this season.

Piper’s relationship with Stella and Caputo’s handling of the prison’s privatization made up the bulk of the “A” stories, but the show juggled other minor storylines as well. These included Poussey’s (Samira Wiley) struggles with depression, Sophia and Gloria’s struggles with their children and Suzanne’s fame from writing a popular short story.

The show’s long list of minor characters made “Orange” feel like a very well-rounded show, filled with diverse and developed characters. But by telling so many stories at the same time with only 13 one-hour episodes the show often became distracting or hard to follow.

Netflix-only shows like “Orange,” where full seasons are released all at once, can attempt to juggle so many characters and stories, because the latest episodes are still fresh in the viewers’ minds. While the third season of “Orange” was slightly overwhelming because of the number of characters, audiences would have had no chance at following the characters if the show had aired on a weekly basis.

Binge-watching is quickly becoming the preferred way to consume television. The rising costs associated with cable television, along with the lack of choice, have led many to give up cable in favor of streaming services like Netflix or Hulu. According to Nielson’s “The Total Audience Report,” 40 percent of homes that have a broadband Internet connection also have subscriptions to at least one streaming service.

But when full seasons are released and watched within a matter of days, rather than over a year, much of the suspense of watching a television show on a weekly basis is lost. It becomes difficult for fans to talk about the show, because everyone watches the season at a different pace.

Whenever I want to talk about a show with someone, I often ask the same question: “Where are you in the season?” They’re almost never in the same place as I am. Then they plug their ears and plead me to stop, lest I spoil any plot details.

Once everyone is all caught up and the season has ended, much of what can be talked about is gone. There’s no more predictions to be made, there’s no more speculation about characters or events — there’s only analyzing what’s already happened, not what’s to come.

While binge-watching provides many benefits over weekly television, my only fear is the quickly-becominglost art of talking and making predictions about television shows with coworkers, friends and fans.

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Thirteen-hour sentence: Netflix makes prisoners of us all