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Orange is the New Black

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Kylee Peña
Orange is the New Black
on Jul 22, 2013 at 3:24:50 am

I spent the last four days or so binging on Netflix's latest show, Orange is the New Black. It's based on a memoir of the same name and created by Jenji Kohan (who also created WEEDS). The basic plot is that an upper middle class woman gets sent to a medium security women's prison to serve a year-ish for a stupid thing she did ten years ago.

The show follows Piper as she deals with her various life complications as an inmate -- balancing life on the outside, serving time alongside an ex-girlfriend, and trying not to piss anyone off. But it also dives into the backstories of the other various inmates to show the life circumstances that led them to serving time.

Piper is interesting, but the show is most interesting when the side characters come into focus. The flashbacks are weaved really nicely into the narrative. As an editor, transitions between points in time that have visual matching cues that aren't super obvious are basically like erotica to me, so uh yeah the structure of the show is the bomb. But mostly the writing is amazing to me. You KNOW every character. When they get dismissed or thrown into solitary, you feel feelings and stuff. These women are criminals without a doubt, but when you see how they got themselves into this situation, you feel really bad for them.

Side note: at least one of the writers (the head writer, maybe?) on the show is a product of AFI's Directing Workshop for Women. She wrote and directed an awesome short called Mother. Look it up. Cuz it's awesome.

If you watched WEEDS, you'll see some similarities with the dark humor of the show. It's occasionally ridiculous but hasn't been truly over the top for more than a second or two here and there. When it's at its most real, the moments are seriously disturbing. Also some great lines.

Besides how funny and touching the show can be, it's amazing to me how accurately it captures The System. I think an unfortunate number of people figure that repeat offenders are just broken people that deserve to be in prison, and that's simply not true. Piper constantly gets screwed with by the administrative staff just because they think she has connections. Processing and paperwork is slow and slips through the cracks. And when you get released, you have no support system, but you're expected to suddenly adhere to another series of rules and check-ins and drug tests and payments. One of my best friends went through this and I got to experience it firsthand. It is remarkable how SCREWED UP The System is. It's like they don't want anyone to succeed.

It's nice to see a women's prison at the center of a story. Like I said, you feel for these women. They're criminals, but for the most part they're just a lot of flawed people that made a few bad decisions. They're not stereotypes or caricatures of female criminals. If there's really any flaw to the show, it's with the way the MEN are written. They're comic relief, easily seduced, creeps, ass holes for no reason, and mostly just dumb.

Anyhoo, I really loved this show. I worry for it a tad. If the protagonist isn't your most interesting character, that's probably not great for the long term. So far, I've been able to justify all of Piper's actions and decisions and continue to sympathize with her. But if you watched WEEDS, you probably agree that Nancy was a good character at first. Then she turned into the least interesting and least likable character after three seasons because she kept making the stupidest decisions EVER.

You should watch this show, gentlemen. I forgot to mention Kate Mulgrew plays an amazing role as a Russian named Red and it's pretty awesome.

twitter: @kyl33t

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Scott Roberts
Re: Orange is the New Black
on Jan 14, 2014 at 6:07:17 pm

I finally got around to watching this, and surprisingly I didn't Netflix binge watch it (my fiance wouldn't let me...!). I guess it made me enjoy watching it more because I had to wait for just one episode every night. But I thought the show was great. Probably one of the best shows of 2013.

I totally agree with you that the side characters are what make the show. I love how they're developed through dedicated episodes to each of them. I kind of also agree that Piper is one of the least interesting characters, and with her being the main character and all, I don't see the show going on much further than her prison sentence lasts. So it appears as if there's going to be a hard out to this show at some point. If the show starts following them after they get out of prison, then it will probably go stale and begin grasping for ideas. Five seasons seems like a good number for any hour long show anyway. Do five seasons!

But I did also find it kind of funny how a show full of well-developed women is also full of one note jerkbag men. Sexist writing in reverse, I guess! :)

But I just wanted to second you here, Kylee, and say watch this show, everybody! It's worth it!

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