“Orange Is The New Black,” based on the book of the same name by Piper Kerman and adapted by Jengi Kohan, is undoubtedly the best thing that Netflix has to offer. It`s got way more bite than “House of Cards,” and by focusing on the pertinent issue of the American prison system, it has justified its existence in a way that season four of “Arrested Development” never did (let’s never talk about “Hemlock Grove” again). It`s not as great as initial praise made it out to be, but just the fact that “Orange is the New Black” has something to say puts it high on the list of best television of 2013.
The show has diverged significantly from the book in terms of narrative, but the core concept is the same. Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) has moved on from being a lesbian drug mule, but when the former operation is arrested her name is given up and it`s off to jail for Piper, leaving behind her fiancé Larry (Jason Biggs) and her WASPy lifestyle. Even reading all the books she can about prison can`t prepare Piper for what`s in store, especially since her former lesbian partner/drug importer Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) is in there with her.
“Bitches gotta learn.”
Piper is the focus, especially as her and Alex tango around each other, but the best part of any episode comes from the flashbacks to other prisoners. “Orange is the New Black” has a huge cast and everyone gets their due in character specific flashbacks, much like on “Lost.” I was initially skeptical of the shows hour long run time, but I needn’t not have worried. Though it’s not the quickest show, each episode finds more than enough drama to keep me engaged.
Knowing that the conditions presented in the show are relatively true to life is certainly the biggest hook. Life in prison is neither a blissful retreat like some shows have presented it (looking back at you “Arrested Development”) but nor is it the ultimate hellhole where every moment is over the top misery. It certainly sucks, what with the drama of having that many people shoved together under the misogynist eyes of the male guards, but the episodes take pains to show that there are reprieves from the despair in prison life, even if they are short lived. They have yoga, but it’s never a peaceful time.
“There’s always hope tomorrow will be taco night.”
The drama isn’t just concerned with the female side of things. Jason Biggs gets some quality air time as he deals with the loss of Piper, and there’s a potent romance between the guard John Bennett and inmate Dayanara. Pablo Schreiber as the douche nozzle guard nicknamed ‘Pornstache’ steals the show in my opinion. He’s a gawd awful terrible person, but that doesn’t make him a terrible character. Schreiber is clearly relishing the chance to play such a morally bankrupt villain, while keeping the character from being too over the top and cartoonish.
As was mentioned earlier, it seems that everyone on the internet has fallen fully and completely for “Orange is the New Black.” It is a great show, but it isn’t the best show. I wasn’t a huge fan of Taylor Schilling in the first few episodes, as she alternates between her fish-out-of-water scared face, and her fish-out-of-water concerned face. Structurally “Orange is the New Black” is nothing revolutionary. The drama is relatively contained by the episodes end, and most conflicts resolve themselves just the way you think they will. I also hate the Regina Spektor penned theme song, but that might just be my prejudice against Regina Spektor.
“I’m scared that I’m not myself, and I’m scared that I am.”
“Orange is the New Black” certainly isn’t the best thing since sliced bread. It’s the best thing that Netflix has to offer at the moment, and it’s season two renewal gives me hope that it can evolve into the best thing since sliced bread. However, no matter my complaints about the show (except for that damn theme song), “Orange is the New Black” has something important and relevant to say, and says it well. Nowhere else, except maybe a PBS or IFC documentary, are you going to find such an insightful look into the American prison system.