She commanded a starship on "Star Trek: Voyager," heads up a terrorism strike force on Adult Swim's "NTSF:SD:SUV," and helps save the world on "Warehouse 13." So even though Kate Mulgrew is on lockdown in Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black," she is, of course, a leader in her Connecticut women's prison.
Mulgrew plays Galina "Red" Reznikov, a restaurant owner and Russian mob mastermind who ends up running the prison kitchen (and its imported contraband) on "OITNB." While we don't get her full backstory in the first season's 13 episodes, Red shows herself to be more powerful than prison officials in some instances — and that's all we'll say about that, out of respect for those who are mid-binge watch.
Mulgrew, who should be an Emmy contender next year for her tough, smart, and funny performance as the mama figure of the Connecticut hoosegow, isn't the only familiar face among the prison inmates and staff. Here are a few of our other favorite stars, and their characters, who've made "OITNB" one of the most entertaining and addictive new shows of the year:
Laura Prepon as Alex Vause
The "That '70s Show" star (that's her on the right) auditioned to play Piper Chapman, the artisanal soap entrepreneur who's sent to prison for carrying drug money for her drug-dealer girlfriend a decade earlier. "Atlas Shrugged" star Taylor Schilling won the lead instead, but Prepon's audition so impressed producers that they crafted the role of Alex — the aforementioned drug dealer/ex-girlfriend of Piper — just for her.
Jason Biggs as Larry Bloom
The "American Pie" star plays Piper's boyfriend, a struggling journalist who gets an unexpected career boost from the situation that might destroy his personal life. The real-life Piper Kerman — whose memoir "Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison" was adapted by "Weeds" creator Jenji Kohan into the Netflix series — is married to a Larry (Smith) in real life, and he did write a New York Times column about their relationship.
Natasha Lyonne as Nicky Nichols
Lyonne, another "American Pie" alum, makes her debut as a TV series regular in "OITNB," playing a snarky but soft-hearted drug addict who comes from a wealthy family and is incarcerated for a drug-related offense (we don't get her full backstory in Season 1, either). Lyonne, who also played Pee-wee's pal Opal on "Pee-wee's Playhouse," told Interview magazine she identifies with a lot of her character's experiences thanks to her own well-documented drug and jail past. Like Nicky, Lyonne had heart surgery, and the chest scar her character bears on the show is real.
Pablo Schreiber as George Mendez
"The Wire" and "Weeds" alum Schreiber is the character you love to hate as sadistic, 'stache-sporting Mendez (aka "Pornstache"), but the facial fur has also made him one of the show's most reliable sources of comic relief. Without going into anything too spoilery — again, let's remember that there is much binge-watching afoot with "OITNB" — we also get a peek at Pornstache's more vulnerable side by the end of Season 1. And that lip fuzz has already earned itself a spot in the TV Mustache Hall of Fame, alongside the fine under-nose fluff of Tom Selleck, Jason Lee, Ned Flanders, and Nick Offerman.
Taryn Manning as Tiffany Doggett
Manning, who has made memorable guest appearances on "Sons of Anarchy," "Burn Notice," and "Hawaii Five-0" in recent seasons, plays the trouble-stirrin' inmate known as Pennsytucky. Her story really comes together near the end of the season, as we learn the backstory of her devotion to God.
Annie Golden as Norma Romano
"Cheers" fans will remember Golden as Cliff Clavin's girlfriend and fellow postal worker Maggie. On "OITNB," she's Red's kitchen worker who doesn't speak, but Norma has a big surprise for everyone in the season finale, about which we'll say only this: Yes, that really is Golden doing what Norma does to the delight of her fellow inmates.
Meanwhile, there are also familiar names behind the scenes. Oscar winner Jodie Foster directed the third episode, "Lesbian Request Denied," and actor and travel writer Andrew McCarthy directed three Season 1 episodes, including Number 10, "Bora Bora Bora," one of the season's most affecting installments.
The best news for fans who've already blown through the first set of 13 episodes and for those who have yet to discover just what a great viewing experience awaits them: "Orange Is the New Black" will return for a second season, with 13 new episodes in 2014.
Season 1 of "Orange Is the New Black" is streaming now on Netflix.
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