Orange Is the New Black is a show obsessed with time. It's there in the theme song — Regina Spektor's "You've Got Time" — and it's there in the show's very DNA. Each of Orange Is the New Black's inmates has an internal, ironclad clock counting down the minutes until she gets out of Litchfield and restarts her life. Even the authority figures have clocks ticking away their sentences, though theirs reset with every new work day.
It made some sense when Danielle Brooks, who plays Taystee, revealed in January that season five of Orange Is the New Black would take place over three days. The show is set to return for at least two additional seasons, so this allows the characters to merely inch toward the end of their sentences.
In a show focused on the oppressive, sluggish atmosphere of prison, it's risky to accentuate the passage of time. Counting down seconds then becomes a chore for both characters and audience, and storylines can't make convenient leaps into the future. Granted, there's plenty of intense, pressing drama to tease out after season four's cliffhanger, but it will be difficult to maintain a sense of urgency beyond that. Minor, tangential storylines will borrow more time than they deserve.
Plus, Orange Is the New Black already feels like a show in real time. The camera treats Litchfield like a narrative playground, meandering between the prison's various subcultures like a woke anthropologist. Without narrative signifiers to indicate passage of time, Orange Is the New Black would just be a bunch of women shooting the shit and occasionally murdering each other.
So what good can this buzzy new format do? We're already invested; we're already with these women. We don't need a narrative trick to draw us closer.
I could be wrong. The new format could be tighter, tenser. Litchfield's new pressure-cooker atmosphere could make the drama hit a steady boil —something characters could never come back from.
But if not, the show's got time to make a comeback.
Mic has ongoing coverage of Orange Is the New Black. Check out our main OITNB hub here.
June 13, 2017, 10:30 a.m.: This story has been updated.