Based on the real life memoir of Piper Kerman about her year-long stay in women’s correctional facility after being indicted on a 10 year old drug smuggling charge, Orange Is The New Black has become an overnight smash.
I decided to give it a go late one night after trawling through Netflix for something to fill my ‘Breaking Bad’ void, and fill it it did. After becoming hooked on the first episode, I binge watched the entire series, and immediately ran out and bought the book it was based on. When I get hooked on something, I go nuclear.
Adapted by ‘Weeds’ creator Jenji Kohan, there are some obvious differences between the original memoir and the show, mainly for dramatic affect and to keep the show running at the exciting pace it does. The nuances that Kohan has created make for an interesting host of characters you can’t help but falling in love with.
There are so many reasons why OITNB is so addictive, but here are just a few of the reasons you should be watching:
1. The comedy
Shows about Prison life tend to err on the much grittier side of things, series' like OZ and Prison Break are full of violence, drama and uncomfortable scenes that make it very clear prison is not the place you want to be. OITNB of course has its share of darkness to give a realistic view of life in a women’s prison, but what really stands out is the dry, dark comedy that Jenji Kohan’s previous work on ‘Weeds’ is famous for. There are so many fantastic comedic moments from this cast, which makes you feel like you are laughing along with the characters. Piper’s non-relationship with inmate ‘Crazy Eyes’ is equal parts hilarious and bewildering and you really feel yourself at times being more interested in the supporting characters than the main character of Piper, thanks to their plentiful one liners. Plus with cultural references to everything from Taylor Swift to ‘The Help’ and with Jason Biggs sending up his own appearances in ‘American Pie’ making reference to the 'webcam ordeal' and the 'penis shaving incident’, it really is one of the funniest drama’s around.
2. The Bechdel Test
One thing I always find lacking in movies, TV shows, just about any media, is something that passes The Bechdel Test, in as much as it fits into the following criteria: it has at least two women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man. OITNB passes with flying colours. Written and directed by women and starring a whole cast of female actors, OITNB is not to be mistaken for your typical “for the girls” show, the issues these characters face are not entirely “women’s issues” but real human issues which is so rare in current media.
3. The issues
OINTB is so unapologetic in how it handles every issue it deals with. Gay, transgender, religion, mental health, drugs, rape, violence, racism etc. are all faced throughout the series and never do you feel like it is tip toeing around them. It is explicit and honest in its exploration of these issues and avoids becoming a cliché throughout. The storyline of transgender inmate Sophia (which was directed by Jodie Foster), is especially poignant and something which is rarely dealt with. Played by transgender actress Laverne Cox, with her flashback scenes portrayed by her twin brother, she is an excellently portrayed character and probably one of the best storylines with some of the funniest quips and great one liners.
4. The Cast
No doubt like myself you’ll spend the first episode shouting “oh that’s him for American Pie” “and HER from American Pie” “Oh and Donna from That 70s Show” and so on. OITNB has an ensemble cast of fresh new faces and “that guy from that thing” which give you a nostalgic feel for characters gone by. Personal favourites include Taryn Manning of ‘8 Mile’ and ‘Sons of Anarchy’’s portrayal of Jesus loving meth head Pennsatucky, giving one of the eeriest performances and also the biggest season finale cliffhanger ever and Kate Mulgrew, playing Russian head of the kitchen Red, who always has had a place in my heart since youth from her portrayal of Captain Janeway in Star Trek. It is not often in a series where the supporting cast outshines the lead but this is so true of OITNB. With each episode focusing on the past of one inmate, you really grow to understand how these characters came to be where they are and I dare you try and choose a favourite.
5. The Plot Twists
There’s not much I can say on this without giving the game away, but OITNB is the kind of show where you never find yourself saying “I saw that coming”, it leaves you hanging on the end of every episode and shocks you to your core at the best possible moments. I was so glad to find out it'd been picked up for a second season before the first had even aired, as that season finale twist is just too good and too dark a cliffhanger to not continue.
6. The entire first season is available on Netflix
I hate waiting. I’ve never been any good at it. The wait between one season and the next is bad enough for me and the excruciating week wait for an episode after a cliffhanger can drive you nuts. This is why it’s so good that Netflix have put up the entire season in one go. So I suggest you grab some snacks and plenty of fluids because this is one show you’ll want to be locked up with.