If there’s one series that was buzzing this summer, it’s the newcomer from netflix: Orange is The New Black. Everyone is talking about it. I mean really everyone, from critics to porn stars. This is a series that made everyone excited and ecstatic for more.
The buzzworthy new TV is coming in a format of web series from Netflix. Adapted from a memoir from Piper Kerman, entitled Orange is The New Black: A Year in Women’s Prison. At first I don’t know what to expect from a series about life in prison for woman. Usually men prison are depicted by harsh violence and crass behavior. In Orange, they do not went to the heavy dramatized approach. instead it took a pulpier route, this is a dramedy after all. (Fair warning, TLDR post ahead!)
Life at woman prison where Piper Chapman gonna spend her years definitely felt like high school. Women stays in their cliques, the whites, blacks, Latinas, and the golden girl. Apparently its not racist “it’s tribal”. They even need to know where to sit and who to hang out with, and of course smart enough to not mess with the wrong people. It is beyond amusing to see Piper trying to figure out her place in the lingo she needs to speak of. Her middle class, WASP mold that she’s been wearing just does not fit. Toto we really are not in Kansas anymore. Chapman original intent is to approach the experience in the most positive, Oprah inspired point of view possible: enjoying every moment, learning, getting ripped, reading everything off her amazon wish list, learn crafts, etc etc. A resolution that only last for a short moment in the minimum security prison. But life is never boring when you spend your days locked up with 300 other inmates and one of which is your lesbian ex-girlfriend.
I probably wouldn’t be in love with the series if its solely focus on Chapman (Taylor Schilling) character and her struggling writer fiance Larry Bloom (Jason Biggs). But Orange is made off a strong tapestry of supporting roles: from the russian cook/mother hen Galina ‘Red’ Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew), a richgirl junkie Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne), a beautiful young latina Dayanara Diaz (Dascha Polanco) who had a secret affair with a prison guard (Matt McGorry), a super hot M2F trans (Laverne Cox), an older roommate whose secret past become a source of rumors of her crimes Miss Claudette (Michelle Hurst), a sinner who just found her conviction through (religious) divine intervention Tiffany ‘Pennsatucky’ Doggette (Taryn Manning), a homophobic correctional officer Mr Healey (Michael Harney), despicable and corrupt prison guard George ‘Pornstache’ Mendez (Pablo Schreiber), and of course the notorious lesbian ex cum fellow inmate, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon). With a number of additional character that made the ensemble even more comical: the boisterous dyke Big Boo, the crazy butch appropriately nicknamed crazy eyes, a menopausal nun, a former marijuana farmer turn yoga instructor, risking making myself sounded iracist – sassy black inmates and feisty latinas, and many many more.
The cast of the show, dominated by women in various age, different appearances, diverse cultural background, and driven by miscellaneous motivation. Each episode contains a backstory for Chapman character and assorted character that explains how each character got themselves in their current predicament. Each of the story got an unexpected twist, as a viewer i get to see how everything is in shades of grey, nothing is in clear cut black or white. It’s interesting how these women interacts with each other, creating a new community out of bands of social outcasts with their own set of rules as they create their own social structures. Lesbian issue arise but did not serve as a sexual gimmick for the series. Instead it become a trait, a currency, a social conditioning, a coping mechanism even with the glorified terminology gay for stay.
Like I’ve said before, a backstory for several characters are told in flashback among episodes. While Piper Chapman dominates this series of flashbacks as she was the series central character, there were others that stood out for me. One of my favorite was from Tricia, a street rat cum heroin addict; Pennsatucky, with a distorted past; and Sophia, the male-to-female transgender (which is still rarely got a fair representation in the landscape of television, really). Sophia story particularly stood out for me, because it actually shows the distress that her family have to endure during her transition period. The story kept evolving until now (when she’s in prison), and become one of the most heartwarming and heart wrenching part of the series. Laverne Cox the actress who portrayed Sophia, is an actual M2F transgender actress, producer, and writer, while her pre-op portrayal in the series was done by her twin brother, musician M. Lamar. Taryn Manning did a great job as Pennsatucky, a definite stood out among the cast as she redefines crazy and representing an obscene fanaticism towards her beliefs. Biggs plays Larry Bloom, the boyfriend of Piper Chapman, probably not the best choice for the character, but it’s a far cry from his previous work anywhere. Funnily enough references to his previous character from his famous Pie franchise was made here (the shaving incident, the webcam horror, etc), quite unnecessarily perhaps.
With pervy prison guard, jealous fiance, new lifestyle to adapt, a band of inmates to befriend and be-foe, a whole lot of things to sacrifice, the journey that Piper Chapman (and her fellow imprisoned women) took in Orange is the New Black was a riveting experience. Seeing her unraveled and peeled layers upon layers throughout the series was a testament to Kohan expertise in story telling. Thank god, the fun thing about Netflix series, is that you can access an entire season (13, in OINTB) in one go, instead of waiting for it to be broadcasted one week apart. So do a favor for yourself and watched the entire season in a back-to-back marathon (between 1-3 days, depending on how engrossed you are, i did it in 2 days). My personal favorite episode is the 3rd one (for obvious reasons) which was directed by Jodie Foster. My least favorite one was the 13th episode which was the last of the season, just because it can use a little tightening and be improved significantly despite the intense cliffhanger that left me craving for season 2.
Serving a different kind of women drama, the first season of ‘Orange Is The New Black’ was deliciously fresh! Its feisty and tenacious. Much like the Regina Spektor’s You’ve Got Time that serve as the theme song of the series. I finished all 13 episode far too quickly (and i re-watched it once already). I’m craving for a second helping, and probably much, much more…
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (2013)
CREATOR Jenji Kohan | PRODUCER Jenji Kohan, Liz Friedman | ORIGINAL SOURCE “Orange is The New Black: My Year in Woman’s Prison” by Piper Kerman | THEME SONG “You’ve Got Time” by Regina Spektor | FORMAT Web Television, Series | PRODUCTION COMPANY Lionsgate Television | DISTRIBUTOR Netflix | COUNTRY United States | SEASON 01 | EPISODE 13 | RUNNING TIME 50-60 minutes | RUNNING PERIOD July 11, 2013-now
STARRING Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, Michael J. Harney, Michelle Hurst, Kate Mulgrew, Jason Biggs, Maria Dizzia, Laverne Cox, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Dascha Polanco, Natasha Lyonne, Taryn Manning, Lea DeLaria, Yael Stone, Uzo Aduba, Selenis Leyva, Vicky Jeudy, Madeline Brewer, Constance Shulman, Beth Fowler, Pablo Schreiber, Matt McGorry, Nick Sandow, Alysia Reiner.
IMDb | Trailer | Netflix | Book on Goodreads
Plus an article written by Larry Smith (the real husband of Piper Kerman) published on NY Times
awesome caricature of the awesome inmates by the awesome Noelle Stevenson aka Gingerhaze :D