Today was a huge news day for fans of Orange is the New Black: Netflix has renewed the show for three more seasons. Season 4, which was already greenlit, will premiere on June 17. This means we’re going to see Season 5 in 2017, Season 6 in 2018 and Season 7 in 2019. The deal includes a commitment that Jenji Kohan will remain the showrunner through Season 7. There’s also no word yet as to whether Season 7 will be the final season at Litchfield, or if we can expect Season 8 and beyond.
Admittedly, as a fan of the show, I can’t wait. Season 3 was my favorite yet, so I have every reason to believe that the show will only continue to improve and blow all of our minds. Still, a three-season renewal is very ambitious, and I’m not sure it’s the best plan. Here are just a few concerns to weigh as we celebrate this big news.
1) Quantity isn’t the same as quality
The Office ran for nine seasons. So did Seinfeld. And neither show was nearly as good by the end as it was during its prime. Even my beloved Parks and Recreation, which ran for seven seasons, lagged toward the end. It’s always best to go out on a high note, while material is still fresh, and there’s no way to assure that when a show is contractually obligated to continue. Sure, sometimes we get a brilliant seventh season, like on Mad Men, but those are few and far between. Just because a show can go on forever doesn’t mean viewers actually want it to.
2) How long can Piper’s story go on?
From a storytelling perspective, this move is terrible. If you’ll recall, Piper’s sentence is only 15 months long. The show has already slowed the timeline considerably, but how much longer can that last? And, sure, we’re all a little tired of Piper anyway, so maybe she’ll be released and we’ll get to have the final seasons with the characters we love most. But since Piper has been the anchor since day one, it’s hard to imagine Kohan writing her out completely. They could always extend her sentence, but even that would feel forced. Instead, they’re most likely going to slow down the timeline even more, which could damage the flow of the narrative.
3) The end of Season 3 changed everything — which may not be sustainable in the long term
The Season 3 finale was shocking. Caputo is now the czar of Litchfield, and the prison population is doubling in size (that bunk bed reveal was killer). That’s great news for Season 4 — it means the show’s dynamic is changing up in a huge way, and it will keep the stories fresh and exciting. But how long will that last? One season? Two? When will they have to shake things up all over again? Kohan hasn’t let us down yet with her ability to surprise and impress, but if her team has to keep upping the ante, it might feel exhausting and forced.
4) The cast will dwindle as new opportunities arise
The first three seasons of OITNB brought so many fresh faces to the screen, and by now, many of them are blowing up in huge ways. Taylor Schilling is becoming an indie movie sensation with roles in films like The Overnight. Uzo Aduba is transitioning into film as well, with roles in the upcoming features Tallulah and American Pastoral. Laverne Cox is an icon of the trans movement, balancing her acting and modeling career with serious activist work. And Matt McGorry is already splitting his time between OITNB and How to Get Away with Murder. (As of last fall, McGorry hadn’t confirmed whether he’d even be returning for Season 4, so he may already be gone for good.) And that’s only the beginning. Sure, actors can balance multiple jobs, and just because their careers are taking off in major ways doesn’t mean they’ll jump ship. But as even more opportunities arise, it will be hard for OITNB to keep all of the performers the fans crave, and those losses will be terrible for the show.
5) Remember Jenji Kohan’s track record
I didn’t watch Weeds, but I’ve never heard anyone say anything good about its final seasons. Kohan has a reputation for starting out very strong and then jumping the shark. Hopefully that won’t happen with OITNB, but the fact that she’s now tied to the show through Season 7 is a bit worrisome.
6) It’s time for newer Netflix shows to shine
When OITNB premiered, Netflix’s original programming was sparse. House of Cards was around, but not much else. Now? There’s BoJack Horseman, Jessica Jones, Sense8, Daredevil, Narcos, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Grace and Frankie, Master of None — to name just a few. And that’s not counting all of the new original shows slated to premiere this year. By 2019, Netflix’s programming slate will be huge. OITNB has had its time in the spotlight. Now it’s time for these newer shows to feel the love.
7) The television landscape is going to change a lot in the next three years — can OITNB keep up?
Netflix pioneered the world of original streaming television. Now there are high-quality original shows on Amazon, Hulu and Vimeo, too. In the coming years, we’re going to see so many more platforms take off, and the shows that shine will be the ones that are most adaptable to the ever-changing environment. That’s not to say that there won’t be a place for OITNB — or shows like it — in the coming years, but they’re going to have to work extra hard to keep up with the pace.
None of this is to say that Seasons 4 through 7 will be bad. They might be fantastic, and I hope they are. I’m not ready to say goodbye to the ladies of Litchfield just yet! But if they spend the next few seasons resting on their laurels, we may be in for a disappointing conclusion.