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

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