Horror isn’t really my thing, so I’m going to tell you guys what I think of the first two seasons of Orange is the New Black.
As a Netflix Original TV Show (how much does that sound like Disney Channel Original Movie?), Orange is the New Black is probably designed to attract people to get Netflix in order to watch. Fortunately, I have family and friends that have already done so.
Orange is the New Black is the story of Piper Chapman, your normal, everyday, rich white girl who is probably getting into her thirties. We all know that she’s going to jail at the start, since that’s what the show is about, and we wonder why. Well, I don’t remember exactly how this was introduced, but I remember wondering throughout the first few episodes, “So what did she do?!” Piper goes through G’s of emotional rollercoaster acceleration as she adjusts to life in prison, experiencing various dramatic scenarios with the other inmates, management, her fiancé, and her ex-lover (Donna from That 70’s Show, or Alex Vause) and it never stops. I have a couple of things to say about this show, so please understand that I am a cynical anime-watcher. Not even fan.
I’ll avoid giving spoilers as much as possible, but I really don’t care about spoilers – in fact I prefer to know, I like skipping episodes to see my favorite characters.
Let’s start from the very beginning, a very good place to start. Orange is the New Black (the show) is based on Orange is the New Black (the memoir). Looking at its wikipedia page, I guess I can’t really say it’s a young adult novel. But this rather brings up another point I want to make. Orange is the New Black is not a harsh show. It isn’t politically motivated, and there’s very little gore (and sex). It plays much more like a High School slice of life, with a bit of drama mixed in. The lesbianism isn’t deep or meaningful; it has nothing interesting to say aside from “Hey! Look at me! I’m weird! Isn’t that interesting? Watch me! Pay Netflix 10$ a month for me!” So if you’re someone who is afraid to watch it because it seems scary, I wouldn’t worry about that. Go in knowing that yeah, they’ll show some fake sex scenes and it’ll be weird, and there’ll be a little bit of scary prison violence, but nothing deeply disturbing. Orange is the New Black is what Netflix wants it to be – an interesting show that’s light enough to keep Netflix customers coming back.
Orange is the New Black has a wide host of characters (mostly female, of course) that come from different backgrounds. In a very mature manner, the women divide themselves up by race. An example of how Orange is the New Black seems like a high school show is how Piper enters the cafeteria to see that each group of like people sit together like how it is in Mean Girls – unfriendly black hotties, jocks, the burnouts, the list goes on and on. The show seems to make a point of showing many of the characters’ backstories, and revealing that they are not as bad as anyone might assume. [Details of each character’s backstory are redacted for spoilers’ sake] And then Piper sees the Aaron Samuels of prison – her ex Alex Vause.
We know when she’s first on-screen that Alex is supposed to be the super-hot ex-girlfriend. If you can’t get on board with that idea, then this show will not appeal to you. (This is probably why some of my friends don’t like this show as much as I do.) Like most anime characters I love, (and not to mention following a yuri-femlash-lesbian archetype) she’s badass, has black hair, is tall, and has a deep voice. No surprises here. We can only hope that Piper will realize the error of her ways and fall back in love with Alex immediately. That’s the entire reason I kept watching this show for hours on end.
Piper and Alex are (in my mind) undoubtedly the main characters of the show – but they don’t necessarily get more screen time than the other characters like the Russian lady, Red, or the crack addict, Nicole, or Taystee or Black Cindy, or Crazy Eyes. I thrived on their ten minutes of screen time per hour long episode of season one, and skimmed many episodes of season two before I realized Alex wouldn’t be playing as big of a role. When Piper and Alex come together, though, their relationship isn’t very sexual, in spite of the obvious implications. In prison, what Piper really needs from Alex is to be a friend and someone she can trust, and I suppose their shared screentime is primarily spent building that trust. However, this lack of romance puts a pretty big dent into how I perceive the show insofar as that the primary appeal was the lesbianism, but this doesn’t seem that serious or legitimate. Aside from the fact that they don’t get as much screen time as I would like, and that the time they spend is not very romantic, the characters – Alex, and Piper – are pretty fundamentally different in the show. Mainly in terms of quality.
Alex is everything I described before, and very little else. She has some hipster traits (that’s part of this show’s appeal, the hipster-esque humor and dialogue) and swears an appropriate amount. She doesn’t care or something, but we don’t mind because all she’s there for is to be someone that Piper feels she can’t trust, but is drawn to inevitably. Piper, on the other hand, is our protagonist. She gets significantly more screen time than Alex, and seems to have real feelings. She may be self-centered and often ignorant of others’ needs, but she has the kind of flaws that make her interesting and human. We know that the show is about how Piper changes in prison, and I’ll be glad to see her growth progress more in season three. She starts off very innocent, aiming to just get through the 15 months while ducking her head down and avoiding attention, and by the end of season two she doesn’t care about anyone anymore – or does she? She constantly changes her mind, she finds it difficult to keep track of her emotions, and she finds it hard to maintain relationships with those she holds dearest because she needs support and is often unable to get it. She suffers from the inability to decide who she should stay with in the long run – sexy and exciting Alex Heathcliff, or boring but loving and stable Larry Linton? Piper is the character whose life we follow in Orange is the New Black, and I for one find her story compelling enough for me to keep watching.
None of the concepts in this show are novel. Teen pregnancy, middle-aged women fighting in passive-aggressive or sometimes just aggressive ways, racial tension, political scandals, spicy homosexuality, drug abuse, and Edward-vs-Jacob-style decision-making? Not original, but as always, loads of fun. There’s very little that Orange is the New Black does that hasn’t been done before – but has any of it been set in a prison before? Orange is the New Black has two main pulls – firstly, that there’s all of the concepts I just mentioned, and they take place in a prison. Secondly, the humor. Orange is the New Black is a drama-comedy mix, and I often found myself getting frustrated that there was so much ‘filler’ but I realize that comedy is popular for a reason. Be it chasing a mysterious chicken, getting sweet-talked by an insane lesbian, or inspecting one’s own genitalia, Orange is the New Black has its fair share of funny events in addition to its pop-culture-reference-laden dialog. I personally like the pop culture references much more than the filler-plot comedy, even though I myself don’t get every reference. The references are such a part of the writing that it seems very unrealistic – does everyone in prison know what Rihanna’s hairstyle was like in 2009? Was that even really not so long after she was beaten up by Chris Brown? The humor is not bad, but for me it seems to take away from the gravity of the concept of prison.
There’s not much else I have to say about this show. I love Piper’s character, and I find the rest mildly to quite interesting or funny. The opening is by Regina Spektor, which at first seems exciting, and then after about episode 3 you are done with it. (Seriously I don’t have time to watch a minute and a half long intro when I’m marathoning for 10 hours, that costs me a whole 10 minutes of my life!)
At first I heard lots of ‘yay’ about Orange is the New Black, and as time has passed, I hear more and more ‘nay.’ This doesn’t stop me from watching, but I think that both sides are justified. One just doesn’t compulsively spend weekends watching episode after episode. I hope that I’ve explained some of the basics of Orange is the New Black, and you can tell if you’d like it or not. I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest TV show on earth, but it definitely caught my attention for about 26 hours.