Crazy, Stupid, Love & its Drug Smuggling Consequences in 2013’s best new show!
This review is likely to contain a fair number of superlatives, because Orange is the New Black is a fantastically fun new show that snuck up on pretty much everyone. Widely ignored prior to all 13 episodes being released, it has since become a critical darling and commercial success for Netflix. The show hooks you in from the first moments of the pilot and doesn’t let you go until all 13 episodes have been consumed, binge-style.
Orange is one of the most addictive shows in recent memory, and the beauty of it lies in the fact that it does not depend on major cliffhangers to engage viewers into watching the next episode (barring the final moments of the last episode, however, but I won’t give that away to those who’ve yet to watch!). Orange transcends shows that are currently being popularised on TV, mainly due to its unique premise and setting.
Based on the memoir by Piper Kernan and brought to the screen by Jenji Kohen (creator of Weeds), the show follows self-described WASP-y Yuppie Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) as she faces the trials and tribulations of a 15 month sentence in a Woman’s prison. Piper, or Chapman as she is known in prison, self-surrenders to Litchfield Prison as part of a plea bargain after being ratted out for a criminal indiscretion committed approximately 10 years prior. You see, back when Piper was 23, she fell in love with an International drug smuggler named Alex (played by Laura Prepon of That 70s Show fame) and helped out her girlfriend’s business by naively acting as the cartel’s money mule a few times. Young love makes you do crazy things.
In the intervening years since leaving Alex, Piper met and became engaged to nice guy writer Larry (Jason Biggs) and was in the process of setting up a lotion products line with her best friend Polly. Suddenly finding herself floundering in prison, Piper is forced to reorient her perspective on life and herself, in order to make her year to year-and-a-half long sentence count. Here’s what makes this show great – Piper is not necessarily all that likeable. She can be shallow and weak and ridiculous, BUT also funny, sweet, resourceful and brave. Taylor Schilling plays the central role to absolute perfection, and can produce such a great depth of emotion ranging from meek to enraged (see episode 9 for further proof).
The supporting cast all similarly shine, particularly Natasha Lyonne as former drug addict ‘Nichols’, Taryn Manning as Piper’s enemy ‘Pennsatucky’, and Laverne Cox as transwoman inmate Sophia. The diversity of characters is like none other on TV right now, shown by the surprising racial divides upheld within the prison (the inmate ‘elections’ in episode 6 present the hilarity and ridiculousness of the ethnic lines drawn and imposed by the prisoners). In a television landscape bombarded by anti-heroes and efforts to present gritty realism, Orange doesn’t need to fall back on these trends of contemporary storytelling to succeed. The characters are who they are, they suffer humiliation and they try their best to come back fighting.
Orange juggles the intense and scary drama of the situation with a great deal of humour and humanity. For a show handling issues of drug addiction and mental health problems, it is remarkably funny. There is plenty of sex, drug use and rude language, but any prudish viewers should not be put off, thanks to the endearing nature of the show, particularly expressed through the relationships developed amongst the characters and the *spoilers* rekindled romance between Piper and Alex (who has been incarcerated in the same prison).
The show blends the madcap and surreal with a realistic, authentic narrative of modern day prison life. For instance, the inmates are assigned factional work placements, such as laundry, electric or kitchen; they are, unlike you may suspect, not allowed conjugal visits (and during family visits we see that, in a subtle Arrested Development nod, there is also a “no touching” rule); the women also can buy products from the prison commissary, such as shower flip-flops, but in the pilot episode Piper has yet to receive her money thanks to an admin error meaning that she creatively straps sanitary pads to her feet instead. There is no prison hierarchy per se that Piper must strive to assert herself within, instead, she must simply learn to fit in – to live alongside the other women who are really no different than her.
This is a fantastic television show because of the diversity of its characters, emotional heart and spot-on humour. A parting shout must also be given to the wonderfully catchy theme song ‘You’ve Got Time’ composed and sung by Regina Spektor, and the credit sequence leading into each episode. Orange is both heart-warming and heart-breaking, and the only negative thing about it is being forced to wait until 2014 for round two.