Orange Is the New Black is one of the most popular original shows on Netflix or any streaming platform. In the early days, when people were still trying to figure out what original programming on a streaming service should look like, OITNB was one of the first shows to set the standard for what was possible for a "Netflix Original." These days, original shows from Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are among the biggest prize winners at television award shows each year, a trail that was no doubt blazed in large part by Jenji Kohan's prison dramedy.
Initially based on-- but now largely just loosely inspired by-- Piper Kerman's memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison, the TV version of OITNB has progressively strayed further from its source material, some would say to mixed results. Though Kerman has remained a creative consultant on the show, it has mostly just been to keep the details about being in prison relatively accurate-- OITNB's writing team have been pretty much steering the ship themselves for at least the last three seasons.
Some of the creative decisions made regarding OITNB have served the show well, even ones that were made fairly last-minute. Others have damaged the series to varying degrees, with some choices causing the show to permanently lose viewers and critical love. It remains to be seen how the upcoming seventh (and final) season handles the various corners that the writers have painted themselves into, but we remain cautiously optimistic.
Here are 11 Last-Minute Changes That Hurt OITNB (And 9 That Saved It).
20 Hurt: Three Seasons At Once
Netflix seems to be getting a little more particular these days with which shows it renews, with the surprising recent cancellations of shows like Iron Fist and Luke Cage. At least OITNB is getting one more season, which is more than most shows get.
There was a time when any Netflix show that wasn't a complete and utter failure was guaranteed a second and probably even a third season. During those halcyon days, OITNB got renewed for a whopping three seasons all at once, guaranteeing the show would see seven seasons. Given the critical divisiveness of season five's riot and the show struggling to justify its existence since, maybe forcing the writers to stretch the show to a seventh season wasn't the best decision to make way back in season four.
19 Saved: Making Crazy Eyes A Permanent Character
OITNB is an ensemble through and through, but that isn't to say that there aren't still standout characters. One of the first characters to start stealing scenes was Suzanne Warren, better known as Crazy Eyes. Portrayed by actor Uzo Aduba, Crazy Eyes expertly balances being goofy and troubled but also making sure you are always laughing with her instead of at her. It's really hard to imagine OITNB without her, which makes it all the more surprising that Crazy Eyes was initially only planned to appear in a measly three episodes of the show.
It didn't take long before the show's creative team realized they had something special on their hands.
This was thanks in large part to Aduba's performance. They smartly decided that Crazy Eyes needed to stick around.
18 Hurt: Giving The Show A Timeline
You'd think that shows would eventually stop trying to have a very specific time where they are set. There are countless examples of shows that had to just throw continuity out the window when they went on a few seasons longer than their original premise allowed for. It's easy enough to let go in sitcoms, but with series that are meant to be taken a little more seriously and be more realistic, it can be distracting.
OITNB establishes that Piper's prison sentence is only 15 months long. Which means that everything that happens through the riot, four seasons worth of shows, are all supposed to take place in just over a year, which makes no sense. Furthermore, the show supposedly taking place in the mid-2010s makes its references to modern topics like #MeToo also feel oddly out of place.
17 Saved: Larry Leaving The Show
One of the biggest ways that OITNB deviates from the book,, is that it has Piper's husband leave her-- even though Piper and Larry are actually still happily married in real life.
Portrayed by Jason Biggs, Larry is a major presence in the first two seasons of the show before he eventually leaves her.
While there may be issues with how Piper and Alex's relationship has been handled in recent season, there is no denying that it was initially fascinating to watch, and Larry was just a distraction from that. Beyond that, Larry would've soon overstayed his welcome as a character. It would have prevented the show from focusing on Piper's time in prison and stayed too hung up on her relationships in the outside world.
16 Hurt: Bennett's Unsatisfying Exit
To be clear, it's always inappropriate for a prison guard to have a physical relationship with an inmate. All that aside, John Bennett seemed like he genuinely cared for Daya. He was prepared to do right by his obligations as an eventual father to Daya's child.
Then, suddenly, he wasn't. Near the beginning of OITNB's third season, Bennett got stressed and drove off, leaving Litchfield, Daya, and his future child behind seemingly for good. Not only did make little sense for the character, but it was an unsatisfying, anti-climatic ending to Bennett's time on the show and his relationship with Daya. Even the actor who played him, Matt McGorry, wasn't entirely sure why Bennett exited the way he did.
15 Saved: Not Going With Katie Holmes As Piper
The cast of OITNB seems as though it is deliberately made up mostly of previously unknown actors, rising stars who faded from the spotlight in recent years, actors who had their heyday decades ago.
The fact that main protagonist Piper was originally going to be played by Katie Holmes seems to clash with the rest of the cast.
Strange or not, OITNB creator Jenji Kohan originally wanted her in the role, and had even met with Holmes about the project. And it seems as though the only reason it didn't happen was due to Holmes having scheduling issues, likely not being able to commit to a multi-season TV series. It definitely would've been a very different Piper.
14 Hurt: Using Lorna For Comic Relief
It has to be hard balancing as many different characters as OITNB has, keeping them all interesting and giving everyone something of substance to do. Unfortunately, some characters are introduced with much promise and a lot of interesting places ro go, but ultimately fall victim to an overstuffed cast list.
Lorna Morello Muccio is one such character. When she first joined the cast, there were a lot of places to take her character, from exploring her mental illness to how she came to marry the man she was stalking. After a couple of seasons, Lorna's character began to feel thinner, and she eventually seemed to exist for no other reason than to feed material to Nicky for jokes. Such wasted potential.
13 Saved: Keeping Vee's Actor In The Dark
Yvonne "Vee" Parker did some wicked things during her twelve episodes on the show during the second season, and the actor who played her-- Lorraine Toussaint-- won a SAG award for her work.
It's a role she might not have taken if she was told in advance just how awful Vee truly was.
Toussaint said that she only took the role being told a vague idea of what Vee was going to be doing on the show, and it wasn't until she signed on and saw the scripts that the full extent of Vee's nature. Otherwise, she says, she may not have taken the part, not being sure if she could play such a bad character. In fact, Toussaint said she can't even bring herself to watch her performance on the show, unsure if she'd be able to handle it.
12 Hurt: Adding Pointless Flashbacks
One of OITNB's most frequent narrative devices is the flashback, helping to flesh out the backstories of Litchfield's inmates by showing their lives pre-jail. Initially, the flashbacks were a welcome reprieve from the oppressive prison setting, but after awhile, they began to feel stale and increasingly unnecessary.
Take, for instance, Madison "Badison" Murphy, a sixth season addition to the show. As one of OITNB's new villains, Badison is eventually given the flashback treatment, where we learn that she was previously known by ridiculous nicknames like "Sadison" and even "Fartison" before being driven to become the juvenile delinquent that would grow up to be Badison. Unlike the better flashbacks, it feels formulaic and obvious, rather than actually adding any depth to an already pretty compelling character.
11 Saved: Ryan Murphy Giving Up On The Show
It's hard to deny the impact that Jenji Kohan has had on shaping the television adaption of OITNB, building on her previous experience creating and executive-producing Weeds and writing for shows like Gilmore Girls, Will & Grace, and Sex and the City.
What might the show have looked like if another prominent TV show creator had been at the helm instead?
The first person to acquire the rights to making a TV show out of Piper Kerman's memoir was none other than Ryan Murphy, creator of Glee, American Horror Story, and Feud. Murphy later admitted that he struggled with what to do with the show, eventually just letting the rights lapse, with Kohan eventually grabbing them. There's no denying that Murphy's take on OITNB would've been interesting, but Kohan just seems like a better fit.
10 Hurt: Having Daya Set Off The Riots
The riot that dominated season five was being built up to for some time before that, with a series of events leading to increased tension between the inmates and Litchfield's staff that was going to come to a head sooner or later. Still, there needed to be that spark that made things finally explode and kick the riot into gear, and that spark ended up being Daya shooting Thomas Humphrey.
Why Daya? It just doesn't ring true for her character that she would commit such an act. The writers could've had any number of inmates do it and have it make perfect sense. Daya being the shooter just felt wrong somehow, or like it was only done for the shock value.
9 Saved: Casting Laverne Cox's Brother As Sophia Pre-Transition
Laverne Cox helped OITNB be a trendsetter in yet another way, making it not only one of the first mainstream shows to give an openly trans woman a prominent role, but also to help her earn an Emmy nomination.
Cox's character on the show, Sophia Burset, is also trans and lived as Marcus Burset prior to the events of the show.
When it came time for Sophia's flashback to her days living as a man, the painfully obvious path was to have Cox change her appearance to look more male to play Marcus-- until the revelation that Cox has an identical twin brother, rapper M. Lamar, who could just play Marcus instead. This not only saved Cox a lot of time in the makeup chair, but it gave her brother the chance to show off his acting chops.
8 Hurt: The Riot
Obviously, just having a television series that follows a core group of inmates in a prison is only going to be interesting for so long without a major shakeup. The best way to shake things up in a prison is, of course, to have a riot.
Audiences were split on the riot, and even those who were game for it at first began to wonder how the show was going to continue after the riot ended. It would've been better for a final season than in the middle of a show's run, and many feel that the show has struggled creatively since.
7 Saved: Making Nicky A Permanent Cast Member
It isn't only Crazy Eyes who went from a temporary character to a permanent one.
Nicky Nichols, played by actor Natasha Lyonne, was only set up to have a six-episode stint.
It was quickly decided that she should stick around indefinitely. Like Crazy Eyes, Nicky has been so interesting, been so intertwined with the plot, and experienced such fascinating changes throughout her six (and counting) seasons that it's hard to imagine she wasn't always part of the show's long-term playbook. Whether the stories were completely altered to make Nicky fit into them or whether she took over the character arc of someone else, we're glad she's still around and still cracking wise.
6 Hurt: Bringing Alex Back
The relationship between Piper and Alex was definitely one of the more interesting through-lines of the early seasons of OITNB, especially in helping to flesh out Piper and make her more interesting. Few people are complaining about the great Laura Prepon's long overdue return to television.
When Prepon left the show a few seasons in to pursue other projects, maybe she should've just stayed gone. Not because we don't like her or Alex, but because her return-- which evidently was always in the plan between her and the producers-- has felt forced. It involved a huge logic leap to bring her into the same prison as Piper, and gave Piper more to do after the show had wisely began to lessen the focus on her prior to that.
5 Saved: Giving Red A Thick Accent
Previously being most famous as Voyager's Captain Janeway, the first female lead of a Star Trek series, Kate Mulgrew is now more closely associated to non-Trekkies as Red. Few things are more iconic to Red's character than her thick accent.
Who knew that it was just a last-second audition decision that led to Red talking the way she does.
In discussing getting the part, Mulgrew said that Red's bio sheet explained that the character was born in Russia but had been in the U.S. since age two, in other words, she wouldn't have much of an accent, if at all. Mulgrew just decided to give her a thick accent when she performed her audition, and everyone loved it and decided to let Mulgrew play the character that way.
4 Hurt: Giving In To Hackers
In the spring of 2017, a few months before the release of the fifth season of OITNB, a hacker group contacted the production company and told them they had obtained the entire season's worth of shows and would leak them if they weren't paid $50,000 worth of Bitcoin. While it might seem like the best idea not to give in to the demands of criminals in such cases, it turns out that the hackers were in fact paid their requested ransom.
The result? They went ahead and leaked the episodes anyway. It ended up being a two-hit combo against the producers of OITNB. Not only did giving in to hacker demands set a precedent for future groups to try similar stunts, but most of season five ended up being leaked anyway, ahead of its premiere.
3 Saved: Letting The Costume Department Cheat
Though it might not always seem like it, the crew of OITNB go through great lengths to make the basics of prison life represented realistically on the show. In fact, the uniforms used on the show are purchased from a company that actually supplies jails with prison garb to ensure that the actors look like real inmates. That said, the costume department is given a little bit of creative freedom in that regard.
Dozens of women walking around wearing identical tan uniforms would make it difficult to tell people apart in groups scenes.
The costume team came up with various subtle ways to personalize their uniforms, be it having rolled up sleeves or minor adornments-- even ones that would be forbidden in a real jail.
2 Hurt: Poussey's Fate
There are a number of reasons why Poussey Washington was a fan-favorite character during her four-season stint on OITNB. While shows shouldn't only do bad things to characters that audiences dislike, Poussey's end just didn't ring true creatively, beyond how heartbreaking it was.
Poussey being suffocated at the culmination of an arc setting up huge looming changes in her life that were going to make things better for her felt a little too cliche. It came off more as a cheap attempt to emotionally crush viewers, rather than actually having Poussey's end mean something of substance. Poussey just wasn't the kind of character that should have been martyred for "ratings," so to speak, and it left a bad taste in fans' mouths that still lingers.
1 Hurt: Making Coates A Sympathetic Character
One of the subplots of season six was escaped inmate Tiffany Doggett on a cross-country trip with boyfriend and prison guard Charlie Coates as they try and make a go of a relationship together in the outside world. The show portrays this as something we should root for, and Charlie as something of a lovable boyfriend to Tiffany. This is completely messed up.
For their entire "relationship," Charlie has been physically and emotionally abusive-- and worse-- to Tiffany.
It's not out of the realm of believability that he'd convince Tiffany to run off with him, but it's the way the show seems to encourage us to root for them, at least initially, that just feels gross all around and softens a character that doesn't deserve softening.
What do you want to see happen in Orange Is the New Black's final season? Let us know in the comments!