I haven’t had much luck with Netflix Original Series so far. I never finished House of Cards, and Arrested Development was disappointing compared to what the show once was. But when my fiance watched a few episodes of Orange is the New Black and told me I should really, really catch up, I took his advice.
Within a few episodes, we were completed addicted. I didn’t mainline the series in one sitting or anything, but I’m pretty sure I finished it within a week. The first part of this review is relatively spoiler free, so only click through for more at the bottom if you’ve seen everything.
For those of you who don’t know, the show is (very loosely) based on a memoir about a WASPy yuppy who goes to federal prison for drug charges. In her younger, wilder days she’d had a relationship with a woman who worked for an international drug cartel, and her brief involvement finally caught up with her.
The show is darkly funny, and paints a brilliantly colorful, over-the-top world inside the prison. It can also be stressful – many times I found myself aghast at the immorality of a prison employee, declaring “That’s not fair!” to my cat, and then realizing that was the point. The pilot isn’t really enough to get people on board, so I’d recommend giving it a few episodes.
The main character, Piper Chapman, must serve a fifteen month sentence for her crime, and she plans to marry her fiance when she gets out of prison. At first, you wonder how the show can get more than a couple seasons out of such a short sentence. But time moves very slowly, similar to the chronology of Breaking Bad. A few episodes may take place over only a week.
I liked how each episode highlighted one of the other inmates, and told us a little of her backstory. After a few episodes, it was easy to have a few favorites. Yet, the stories are left incomplete – that’s why by the end of the series you’re dying for more.
Spoiler-free zone ends
At first, I thought I’d say that I only had a few favorite characters – Nicki, Miss Claudette, Red, Daya and Sophia. I just like Nicki and Sophia, and the actress’s performances on the show. But I’m dying to get more details about how the other three ended up in prison.
I probably have the biggest sympathy for Miss Claudette, even though she murdered a man in cold blood and was involved in some kind of slave trade. She’s older, she’s tough, she has a cool accent and she killed that man because he (I assume) raped and beat a young girl. Miss Claudette survived in prison for so long by having no visitors and no hope. But when an old friend came back into her life, she tried for an appeal and got her hopes up only for them to be dashed. Attacking a guard is sure to land you in “the shoe” for a long time, but I hope she’s back next season.
When the series begins, Piper is more of a sympathetic character. I certainly related to some of her hipster lifestyle stuff – the blog, the reusable bags at the grocery store, begging her boyfriend not to watch Mad Men without her, etc. I liked how as the season wears on, we start to see how Piper can be selfish, how she creates drama and excitement, and how she avoids taking responsibility for her actions.
* Not only do I laugh at Piper’s familiar hipster ways, but I think the funniest moment in the series comes when two black inmates (Taystee and Pouseey, I think) mock white ladies: “Let’s talk about health care, MacKenzie!”
The season culminates with Piper beating the crap out of “Pennsatucky”, a redneck, crazy born-again meth head. (Pennsatucky is played by Taryn Manning, and I like to pretend that this is where her character from Crossroads, the Britney Spears movie, ended up.) I assume Piper hasn’t actually killed her, but an assault charge is sure to lengthen her 15 month sentence. I’m not sure how I feel about this turn – it sure changes things from “Gee, isn’t it funny to watch this rich white girl survive in prison?” – but the show did a good job of building the tension and Piper’s stress in the episodes leading up to the confrontation.
Is it really a whole year until more episodes? Damn.