I have to start things off by being completely honest with you. That’s the only way this reader/writer relationship is going to work. I was sold on “Orange is the New Black” before I even started watching. I’d read an article a few months back, and it mentioned Jenji Kohan was the creator of the project and being a massive fan of her previous show, “Weeds”, I was already on board. Then, I actually read a little bit about the premise and I thought, “OK, this could be interesting.” A pure looking white girl being sent to a federal prison for a crime she committed on a whim, ten years prior. Talk about things coming back to bite you in the ass.
The show is based on the book of the same name, by Piper Kerman. The book details her life of one year and some months, behind the walls of a federal prison. And before you rush out to buy the book thinking you will need to read it before you watch, you don’t. (But, by all means, by the book. I’m just saying it’s not a requirement) The show will spoil nothing. I haven’t read it myself, but by all accounts of those who have, the book and the show aren’t much alike at all. A woman named Piper, (in the show her last name is even changed to Chapman) is sent to prison for carrying drug money for her girlfriend, who was an international drug smuggler, ten years ago. That’s where the similarities stop. The show merely took the thesis of her story, but then ran with it in all sorts of directions in which the true life book, never goes. Which she is completely fine with, by the way. She serves as a consultant on the show. So, I’m imagining she’s not too bothered very little of her actual story remains.
Now, on to my thoughts on the show. Not one minute isn’t brilliant. But, I’ve come to expect nothing less from Jenji. When we first meet Piper, (Who is played by the relatively new to the scene Taylor Schilling, and she is just captivating) she is recalling the love she has for getting clean, and you see a montage of bath a shower scenes from a baby, to now, which the harsh reality presents us with a terrified and uncomfortable white woman being shooed out of the shower by a larger black woman, who we later come to know and love as “Taystee”. Upon getting out of the shower, Taystee comments on Piper’s perky ‘’titties’’ and we feel her discomfort as her dignity is being ripped away. Also, she is wearing maxi pads tied on her feet to try and escape the foot fungus running rampant in the showers. She is totally out of her element. And these aren’t her people. It’s like she’s been transported to a whole new planet and she is having to adapt to their way of life to survive.
Then, we flash back to the night before she self-surrenders. Which was the advice given to her by her lawyer, who is also her boyfriend/fiances father. The boyfriend/fiancé is the familiar, Jason, “How has he not aged?” Biggs. They are having a dinner with their friends to say goodbye. He is steadfast, sticking by his woman. There is a sad and tender moment later, when they make love for what will most certainly be the last time until she gets out. And they are all too aware of this.
Next morning, we all go to the self-surrender, which is excruciating, as they are made to further prolong their goodbye while they wait for the authorities, who didn’t know she was coming, to get their s**t together. And when they do, it’s immediate. They are forced to hug and say their last goodbyes quickly. They don’t want to let go, but the guard isn’t looking like she cares to stand and wait for them to get their fill of each other. They take her away and he is left to go back to the real world and deal with all of it without her.
Now, is where the fun really begins. A lot comes fast. Information is given both by the guards and the inmates. Some good. Some bad. We meet, “Nicky” played by the always wonderful, Natasha Lyonne. She’s a badass, as you would imagine she would be. She meets Red, the cook, with a temper to match her hair color. (Trekkies might recognize her as Kate Mulgrew, who played Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager, but I wouldn’t really know anything about that. Piper learns quickly, Red is not one to p**s off. And also, for more fun, her ex-girlfriend, who may or may not have named her, (That 70’s Show Laura Prepon) is in the very same prison. Well, that’s got to be fun, right?
This is the point where I’m so glad this is a Netflix show, as they want you to absolute do nothing productive with your life, so they give you all episodes at once! And this is definitely one of those shows you want will want to know from the minute one episode ends to the beginning of the next just what the hell is going to happen. And it’s not just Piper’s story either. You have several inmates to choose from, and you get glimpses into why they’re there. You get snippets of their stories in flashbacks. They’ve all done something bad and they all had a reason, whether it was good for bad. Whether it made sense or not. These are all people. And that’s what the show is telling you. These are people, like you and me. And their stories deserve to be told. Because, there but for the grace of God, go I. I might not have robbed a liquor store, or carried over 50 thousand dollars as a drug mule, but I’ve done things that might have landed me in hot water. I could have very easily been one of these women. A lot of people could have. Piper of course, had moved on with her life and her past caught up with her. And as she is telling her Councillor, the statute of limitations was 12 years. Two more years, and she would have been scott free. S**t happens.
Over the 13 episodes, you will grow to care about these characters. And see them more as people and less as just another prisoner who crossed the line and deserves to be punished. Of course there are the ones who are just intrinsically bad and landed themselves in jail for the greater good of all mankind. But, then there are the ones you really feel for. Like Sophia. Who used to be a male firefighter, husband and father, and thanks to the 80,000 he stole from various people, he was able to make the transition into the woman his now. Even the ones you didn’t expect. Like ‘’Crazy-Eyes’’. Before you know it, you are rooting for these people.
All the performances are spot on without a hint of breaking from the moment. And most of the people aren’t super famous. Even Kate Mulgrew is near unrecognisable, which I think adds to the authenticity. You’re able to completely immerse yourselves in the lives of these inmates without having to be distracted by any of their past performances. I don’t want to give too much away, because the story takes you along on this wild ride and you really just have to experience it for yourself.
And the writing is so witty and sometimes unexpectedly hilarious. It’s unexpected because you wouldn’t think there would be humor in such a grim situation. And there is drama, and suspense and you don’t know who to trust. Then you start to relate to them, and the you start to think the only real difference, is their lives and chaos are more contained then yours.
Now, we just have to wait for the promised second season, whenever that will be, but you better believe, I will be there right along with them.
- Gritty, real, human performances
- Terrific theme song by Regina Spektor
- Intense drama, with lots of unexpected turns. Not once did I find it predictable
- It’s on Netflix streaming, so you can devour it, or take your time. It is totally up to you
- Like I said before, if you’re looking for a faithful book adaptation, you will be disappointed. A lot is added to make the story more compelling
Some turns the characters make leave you with a lot more questions, but hopefully this will unfold more in the next season