Is Orange Is The New Black A Game Changer? – Our Review
Orange is the New Black is the New Thing
A surprisingly impressive find, “Orange Is the New Black” on Netflix gives any other drama series a run for its money. The show is based off of Piper Kerman’s memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, written and created by Jenji Kohan (creator, writer, and producer of Weeds) and produced by Lionsgate Television.
Taylor Schilling plays Piper Chapman, an uptight Connecticut native who is working on a startup company selling artisanal soaps (if anyone knows exactly what that is, please enlighten me). Piper is about to begin a 15-month prison sentence for smuggling drug money across international lines for her lesbian lover 10 years prior. Now the straight and typical yuppie, she must pay for her adventurous past, leaving a worried fiancé and pregnant best friend behind.
The cast selection is basically brilliant. Schilling portrays the high-maintenance, health junkie, nice, yet controlling, girl you can’t help but be drawn to even if she is annoyingly perfect. At first, it’s almost enjoyable to see someone so seemingly uptight be forced into an environment she has little control over, but you grow to like her and root for her pretty quickly.
Jason Biggs plays the ever-accomodating fiancé, Larry Bloom, who proposed knowing his previously gay-turned-straight fiancé will be surrounded by nothing but women for the next year-plus. This struggling writer finally starts to get some career movement by publicly sharing their life apart with “1 sentence, 2 prisoners.” While he doesn’t stray from his typical “insecure, confused by women, puppy-dog” character, he stands out and at least makes a few confident, manly moves that are more than believable.
Laura Prepon (Donna from ‘That 70’s Show’) is Alex Vausse, Piper’s former lover, and the possible snitch who led her to her incarceration. Prepon makes prison-life look easy with her street-smart, tough exterior. She is mostly believable as the “wild-girl drug smuggler” who doesn’t go through life sitting down (certainly not smoking pot in the basement with friends) or following boundaries. She also has an amazing talent of making you love her one minute and hate her the next. She is certainly not the girl next door anymore.
The true acting gem of this show is Kate Mulgrew (formerly Captain Janeway of ‘Star Trek: Voyager’) who plays “Red,” the head chef of the prison kitchen. *On a side-note, I watched over half the season before realizing where I recognized her from prior to this show and it sort of knocked my socks off. She looked so familiar, but I had absolutely no clue!* This Russian bulldog runs her kitchen with a stern hand and knows how to hold a killer grudge. Mulgrew is beyond impressive in this role and is truly transformed from the woman you ‘love to hate’ to the boss you ‘hate to love’ – all with a sinister, but adoringly, proud demeanor.
There are numerous side/supporting roles and characters that equally deserve a standing ovation, including “Crazy-Eyes” – Uzo Aduba, Nicky – Natasha Lyonne, Daya – Dascha Polanco, “Pennsatucky” – Taryn Manning, Miss Claudette – Michelle Hurst, Sam Healy – Michael J. Harney and “Taystee” – Danielle Brooks, just to name a few. The entire cast truly makes this show a hit.
Yes, there are a few shower scenes
The first episode jumps right into the action as Piper surrenders herself and is placed into federal custody in a minimum-security prison. She goes from pleasantly surprised to disgustingly shocked fairly quickly. As the season progresses, the audience is given more backstory to her life as well as the other inmates. One by one, you get a peek at the stories behind the women Piper spends her time with, and it draws you in almost immediately. The women are, by no means, portrayed as saints or martyrs; however, you get to see that they’re human and not unlike many of us who just happened to have taken a different path in life (or just didn’t get caught). “Pennsatucky” might be the exception to this – girl is just crazy!
What gives ‘Orange’ its appeal is somewhat of a mystery. The cast’s performance certainly engaged me for being so realistic. The show places its audience in an unfamiliar setting, and we are made to feel that any one of us could find ourselves in that same situation. From one scene to the next, they throw out something you might expect to happen, only to end it with something completely surprising. The characters’ stories are plausible and sometimes enchanting, which draws me in emotionally to each woman. While the situation these characters are in is serious and could be daunting, sporadic comedic moments show up when I least expect them to and lighten the mood. The funniest scene ends with “I threw my pie for you,” and will get anyone cracking up unless you just have no sense of humor. And if that’s the case, this show is probably not for you.
The directors of this series were able to create a successful balance between comedy and drama, all while telling a unique story with interesting perspective. There are a few cringe-worthy moments skillfully scattered throughout the different episodes that make it raw, in a good way. You are watching a series about prison life, after all. There is no shortage of “lesbian activity,” gossip, drugs, mild racism, drama, laughter, realistic plot and genuinely sentimental emotions. By the end of the first season, I was fully invested in the characters and their stories. I recommend that everyone give “Orange Is the New Black” a try. By the end of the first episode, you will be hooked!