Saturday, August 10, 2013


In the month since its debut on Netflix more and more people are talking about Orange Is The New Black, the online giant's newest original series.  While it didn't seem to have the promotional push enjoyed by House of Cards and Arrested Development, the show seems to be steadily increasing in popularity and audiences are discovering it, and the buzz the show is building is well deserved.

The show is based on best-selling memoir of Piper Kerman who did a 15 month stint in prison for a crime she committed ten years prior. Like the author, her fictionalized counterpart Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) is no hardened criminal by any stretch of the imagination.  She's just a privileged, upper class, white girl that had a exploratory lesbian relationship in her twenties and got sucked into transporting drugs for, then girlfriend, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon).  So, a decade later, when she's sentenced to over a year in prison for her participation in the drug cartel, she is engaged to Larry (Jason Biggs), a journalist who is adorkably loving and supportive of her during this tough time.  The WASPy Chapman is clearly out of her element in this environment of tough chicks, but over the course of the 13 episodes we get to witness her adjustment and unraveling.

Schilling as Chapman is spot on as the fish-out-of-water, scaredy cat and almost too good at being annoyingly naive and uncool.  If you find yourself initially annoyed by her you're not alone, the rest of the cast is not impressed with her either.  Everyone except another inmate Crazy Eyes (the name is self-explanatory), played with abandon by Uzo Aduba, who is immediately smitten with the blonde "Dandelion" and decides early on that they're "wives."  Watching Chapman arrive at varying degrees of horror is part of the fun of the show.  She also seems to have Dennis the Menace's knack for causing trouble inadvertently and is constantly having to come up with creative ways to get out of it.  Sometimes she takes the high road and tries to make allies versus enemies, other times she fails miserably.  The prison drama is interspersed with periodic flashbacks to her life before incarceration and what's presently going on with her lonely fiance and pregnant BFF while she's away.

What colors the show, literally and figuratively, are the supporting cast of diverse inmates.  I could harp on the fact that the only way to get a racially diverse representation of women in the media is to set something in prison, but the roles are so sharply written and relatable that it feels like picking nits.  The segregation of the races is nothing we haven't seen in prison centered shows before (Oz comes to mind), but it's never really explored with women.  The cast of characters range from a career petty criminal like Tasha "Taystee" Jefferson (Danielle Brooks) to transgendered parent Sophia (Laverne Cox) each with her own back story and character arc and each actress shines in her own way.  Natasha Lyonne is perfectly cast as Nicky Nichols, a wisecracking, lesbian, recovering heroin addict and Brooks's Taystee and Samira Wiley's Poussey provide plenty of comic relief.

My one complaint isn't about the show itself, but the way each Netflix original series is released in its entirety all at once.  It's great for #BingeWatching, but by the time someone recommends it they've seen the whole season, so you don't have the experience of finding the show along with your friends and completing the season together over a few months, each week hoping to get closer to finding out what will happen to your favorite characters. Then again, maybe that's another adjustment to get used to, just like getting used to the best shows being online versus on television.

Orange Is The New Black is streaming currently on Netflix.

                                                           ******** 8.5/10 Stars

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman attempt to show the real story behind the star of the notorious blockbuster skin flick Deep Throat and in a rudimentary kind of way they do.  The first act shows how the film's star, a 21 year-old unknown named Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) met and fell in love with Chuck Traynor (a reliably creepy Peter Sarsgaard) who charmed his way into her pants and her heart with a sly smile and used his sharp right hook to make sure he stayed there.

It was Traynor who brought about her sexual awakening and then went on to nearly ruin her.  The first section of the film shows how he courted her and seduced her into his world, but never really makes it clear how she went from a prudish young woman to a (mostly) willing nymphet so easily.  Once we reach the glamorous Hollywood parties and runaway success of the film, the second act hits the rewind button and shows the flip side of Chuck and Linda's whirlwind romance and we see the full-on slimy, douchiness that is Traynor which we only get a glimpse of in the first act.

That's all well and good, we get it, he's a dirt bag who put his wife through hell, but for a film that is supposed to revolve around Linda we never really get a grasp on the woman that became Lovelace (kind of like a 'pearl necklace,' sounds elegant, but not really).  Even after the tepid third act where we see her renounce porn and try to move on with her life we still don't know who she is.  She comes across as totally naive and so easily manipulated that her redemption even feels like it was handed to her by a husband that just happens to be a good guy.  None of her decisions really feel like her own and the only reason you root for her is because she's such a victim.  Taking into account that this was a time when there weren't nearly as many resources for a woman in her position, it seems that there's something missing, a latent resilience, a quiet strength that would guide a woman who would go on to speak out against the porn industry and the treatment of women in particular.

As played by Seyfried she comes across as a too delicate flower that was plucked all too soon by an undeserving man-child who lacked the strength to battle his own demons.  She does finally get to the light side of the tunnel, but it feels more inevitable than earned.  The strained relationship with her parents manages to feel overplayed and underplayed at the same time.  The scenes with her mother (an underused Sharon Stone) lack the bite and truth that they should and fail to shed any real light on the subject.  Some fun supporting work from Chris Noth as Deep Throat producer Anthony Romano and Hank Azaria as the film's director Gerry Demiano keep the film from being completely boring and unwatchable.  If not for them, and the nudity, we would be left with a Lifetime Original Movie that might've starred a C-list television actress, but would have likely been more entertaining, even if just as vapid.