Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black is Netflix's newest original series is about Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), who is incarcerated for transporting drug money, and her fellow inmates at Litchfield federal prison.  Orange is the New Black is fantastic and refreshing. It made me realize how much I've missed watching shows about strong, well developed female characters.  I've watched several movies in theaters and the last recent movie I can think of in which the main female characters weren't just the love interests was Bridesmaids which was out two years ago.

I also love how it actually allows older women, women of color, and butch lesbians speak and become fleshed out characters instead of just the younger, prettier women.  There's even a transwoman on the show, Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox), and I think they handle her story and character well.  I am frankly impressed by how many stories and themes the show addresses that you usually don't see.  I like that many of the women on the show get to develop as characters in their own right.  It's so refreshing to see female characters who aren't mainly just about finding or dealing with love and to see them actually get to develop relationships with each other.

I think the show plays it very safe in the beginning with Piper being the character who we follow into the world of Litchfield prison.  Of all of the storylines in the season, one of the least interesting ones is how Piper's fiance Larry (Jason Biggs) and her WASPy friends and family deal with Piper's incarceration.  The contrast between their lives and those of the inmates is stark and Piper's brother is a good comic relief but with so many other characters from the prison left unexplored, I found myself a little frustrated whenever the show focused on life outside of the prison.

I was surprised by how quickly the corrupt wardens, correction officers, and gaurds grew on me as the show progressed and the power dynamic between the prison guards and the inmates.  Particularly fascinating are: sleezy guard "Pornstache" Mendez, corrupt vice warden Figueroa, and Piper's correction officer Healy.

At the heart of the show are, of course, the inmates- all wonderfully portrayed with so many fascinating stories. There's stern Claudette (Michelle Hurst), tough and motherly Red (Kate Mulgrew), transwoman Sophia (and I love how above all else, they emphasize her classiness and downplay her flamboyance), joker Taystee (Danielle Brooks), the mother and daughter Diazes, former junkie Nicky (Natasha Lyonne), Piper's ex girlfriend Alex (Laura Prepon), and Crazy Eyes (Uzo Abuba).  It's absolutely fascinating watching the relationships between the women develop and the dynamics of the different prison cliques change over time.  The show is at its best when it tells stories we don't usually see like Janae, the track star who gives in to peer pressure to fit in, and how for some of the inmates, prison isn't bad compared to the dangerous neighborhoods they have to return to after they leave.    

Brilliant, hilarious scene from the show.

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