Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black
Image courtesy of Lionsgate Television/Netflix

Orange is the New Black

By Lori Garrett | published June 11, 2014 |
Thursday Review contributor

Let me just start by saying that if you haven’t watched the first season of Orange is the New Black, I’m disappointed in you. And also there are spoilers ahead, but mostly I want you to know about the disappointment thing. But luckily for you, I’m here to catch you up on what you’ve been missing under that rock.

Orange is the New Black is a dark comedy based on the book of the same name, and is brought to us by Jenji Kohan, whose other major show Weeds ended its seven year run in 2012.

I like to think that Orange is the New Black (produced in part by Lionsgate Television and Netflix) is the best new series to come out of the ever growing Netflix content empire. I’m sure House of Cards is great, and I have to admit that there is definitely a morbid fascination with Hemlock Grove, but Orange is satisfying in a whole different way.

Now for your prerequisite warnings. This takes place in a women’s prison, and there are plenty of relatively graphic sexual situations, which get tamer and become fewer and further between as the series progresses. I think that it was used more for a shock value to draw viewers. There is a lot of mention of--and some scenes which include--drug use, and there is also violence and a lot of nudity.

Characters to watch for:

Piper Chapman; played by Taylor Schilling (Mercy, Argo) is our main character. Piper is an upper middle-class woman with a burgeoning career in soaps and lotions and a nice struggling-writer fiancée. Everything is going fine until she gets indicted and sent to prison for her part in a drug smuggling ring ten years ago. She has to learn how to navigate prison society while still trying to take part in her old life, which is hard because her foot is virtually always in her mouth.

Alex Vause; played by Laura Prepon (That 70’s Show, October Road) is the former heroin smuggler and ex-girlfriend of Piper. Alex is supposed to be a tough character, but Prepon plays her with a subtle vulnerability that makes you like her all the more.

Crazy Eyes; played by Uzo Aduba, who is a relative newcomer to the scene. She is absolutely my favorite character, and I haven’t even seen her back story yet. She takes a liking to Piper early on, and quickly stakes a claim to her. Crazy Eyes has some of the best creepy/amazing/funny lines in the show, and when she gets emotional, she gets amazing. I see great things in the future for Aduba, as I believe that she ranks with the top actors on the show.

Red; played by Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek: Voyager, NTSF:SD:SUV) is always at her best, and the role of the head chef in the prison kitchen is no exception. Red is powerful and vengeful, but also loving—she is the mother figure to a group of the younger women. But she is not to be messed with, which you find out in the second episode. Traumatizing is the only way I can describe her twisted revenge tactics.

Taystee; played by Danielle Brooks, another actress getting her start. Taystee is one of the most likable characters. She is always laughing and joking with the other prisoners, and is one of the friendlier inmates to Piper—though her brand of friendly is a little rough around the edges. Some people are just sensitive. You don’t get her back story until the second episode of the second season (released on June 6th) and I won’t ruin for you, I’ll just say that it’s fitting to her character.

Pennsatucky; played by Taryn Manning (8 Mile, Sons of Anarchy) is the insane religious zealot, and when you see her back story and learn exactly why she’s in prison, you completely understand her motives and craziness. She is one of the antagonists of the series, and is pretty great at it.

Favorite episode of season one:

The Chickening, episode five. Almost half way through the season we find Piper finally learning the ways of things and starting to get caught up in the prison culture. This episode is at turns hilarious and disturbing, and has quite the side story about a legendary feral chicken.

There are of course great points of every episode, and considering the extremely large cast of characters, the show runner appears to be attempting to give equal screen time to the side stories, both within the prison and in the character histories. I have nothing really negative to say, because everything I hate about it is what the viewer is supposed to hate. So far I’m only two episodes into the second season, but I will report back to you next week after I marathon through season two.