Creator: Jenji Kohan
Stars: Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, Micheal Harney, Jason Biggs, Kate Mulgrew
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
Orange Is the New Black is based on an autobiography of a real-life woman who is sent to prison and is instantaneously in over her head. Piper Chapman (played by 29-year-old Taylor Schilling) has just been sent to a women’s prison for a 15-month sentence for carrying drug money a decade ago, when she was in college. Piper is you’re quintessential upscale yuppie, who talks about eating healthy and boasts about her liberal arts education.
As an attractive, white, blonde girl, Piper is definitely a fish-out-of-water in prison. Almost immediately, a black inmate – dubbed “Crazy Eyes” and rightfully so – attempts to claim Piper as her “prison wife.” Also, on her very first day, Piper also runs afoul of another inmate who is the head cook(“Red”), who orders that no one can share food with Piper.
This was a fascinating 13-episode series, with each show running about 50 minutes. Like other Netflix shows (the excellent House of Cards and the re-launch of Arrested Development), the company chose to release the entire season all at once, so viewers can binge-watch the series.
Piper’s life is a mess. Larry, her boyfriend (played by American Pie protagonist Jason Biggs), proposes marriage to her before she enters prison. Piper dated a girl in college – who got her into the drug business to begin with – and that woman (played by Laura Prepon (“That 70s Show”) is also in the prison with her. Larry is a bit threatened by Piper’s prior lesbian relationship.One of the neat things about this show is that while we enter the prison through Piper’s eyes, she isn’t necessarily the most interesting or heroic character. I could only vision fans cheering for the sweetheart Latino who falls for a male prison guard, or the upbeat black inmate “Taystee” who earns her release mid-series.
If you have been reading this blog for a while now you will know that I tend to go on some rants partly due to a mixture of Ale, opinion, ego, along with a dash of passion.(Yes- most if not all my reviews are done under the mild influence of fine alcohol FYI) Here is one of them:
Let me start by saying this show comes with a caution – it is funny at times, but quite serious. Although, I believe most viewers and reviewers who have waved their finger at the sex scenes and explicit content need to seriously get over themselves. There have been a slew of articles and comments written about this show that harp and whine about how Orange is the New Black is too graphic. Well, to all those viewers it may come as a shock but sex and explicit content are nothing new to television, and is a part of human nature; especially in the prison culture where sex is treated as a commodity.
All this complaining reminds me of when the HBO show Girls first hit the airwaves back in April of 2012. Viewers and critics got their panties all in a twist over the episode where the character Marnie (Allison Williams) makes a feverish dash into a ladies bathroom to rub one out because the guy from the SNL’s Lonely Island crew (Jorma Taccone) talked to her like a sexual being. Seriously? There are worse things that you could see with one click on the internet, let alone in that episode. Secondly, is it really that shocking to people that from time to time women of the world sometimes have to pretend that they are DJ Tiesto for a few minutes while they spin the feel good hit’s of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s? Grow up. Get over it. This isn’t Sunday school or bible camp, this is real F*ing life here. Women are human beings, and they have urges and needs too. Thirdly, now we have mainly female viewers/comedians of the show Girls exclaiming that there is not enough male nudity on the show and are thus signing petitions to HBO in hopes to get the producers to show more dick and less Vajays on screen. HBO is known for it’s box & titty shots so why not more dong’s right? You be the judge. Click here for the link to the story.
The reality, however, is that there are more vajaybirds shown on the show for a reason. This is marketing psychology 101. The show has a predominant female audience and loyal following amongst this gender. However, place yourselves in HBO’s shoes for a moment. Their whole operation is to make money and to attract as many viewers as possible. They already have a loyal female following for the show, so why would they want to squander what-ever male following they have by flagrantly waving sacks and dick all over the set? Anyways, rant off. Let’s get back to the review on Orange is the New Black before this turns into a Girls review.
This is where Orange earns its street-cred. The cast of characters is large, but everyone is given time and place to demonstrate who they are, what they are about, and how they ended up in prison. Some stories are more plausible than others. Ms. Claudette, a fearsome woman whose reputation is based on the fact that no one has ever seen her go poo, kills a child molester. Burset, a transgendered woman who paid for a sex-change operation with stolen credit cards, is turned in by her young son.
You can see the actresses involved in the show tear into their parts with relish. The cast is as terrific as the parts they play. From a wild-haired Natasha Lyonne, who has spent a spot of time in real life incarceration, to the regal Kate Mulgrew as Red, a Russian cook, One of my favorite characters is George(aka Pornstache Mendez) played by Pablo Schreiber. The character portrayal is as blatant as it can be. George is your stereotypical swinging dick of a security guard who has the most boss of all the pornstaches in recent cinema history. This guy is such a F*ing asshole, and it is hilarious. The amount of one-liners and backward takes on life George exclaims throughout the show is enough to keep it entertaining from a comical standpoint as the show mostly portrays serious tones.
Orange couldn’t have come along at a better moment this year. As the summer winds down, and the theaters remain clogged with superhero movies, and boy’s own adventures, Orange feels like a bit of a respite. Sure, you have to go to prison to get some interesting female characters, but so be it.
In this largely female society, the women of Litchfield are given free rein to be blunt about body issues, power, and most explicitly, sex. The 1970’s women prison show Caged Heat has got nothing on these women, who use the prison chapel as a regular trysting place. As Red laments about all of the phallic objects that go missing from her kitchen, anything vaguely penis-shaped (zucchini et al.) is fair game. Guards have sex with prisoners, prisoners have sex with each other, even ordinary electric toothbrushes are getting some action. Rarely have I seen a series with this much vadge on display, and not the dolled up porn version either. These are great hairy beasts. Whether it’s a source of succour in a harsh world, a distraction to numb the pain, or a form of personal revolution, sex is currency. It is a commodity to be traded, a form of barter, and most critically a threat.
While the power dynamics between men and women are often raw and savage, the relationships between the women themselves are also no picnic. The jungle law of prison world is a complex web of favors offered and given; do this for me and I’ll do that for you. Betrayal is a given. No one is innocent. Prison brings one face-to-face with the worst and most atavistic of human impulses. Weakness, selfishness, lust, rage – it’s all there.
Lastly, I have to give a huge bump to the singer and song writer for the show’s original intro theme You’ve Got Time by Regina Spektor. The song in my view expertly portrays the mood and tone of the entire show from the highs and lows of prison life and all the interactions good and bad that take place within the barred jungle. The songs bridge part is my favorite -where the piano really kicks in- and is a brilliant transition into the somber moods that Orange brings to the viewer.
Netflix is honestly becoming a giant in the media landscape for this reason alone: Originality. The original shows that have been featured are surprisingly some of the best I have seen in a long time. I love dogs, however, Netflix is starting to become man’s new best friend for this reviewer.