Irreverent. Raunchy. Deadpan. Three words placed by Netflix as tags on its brilliant original series ‘Orange is the New Black’ (OTNB) from the creator of ‘Weeds’, Jenji Kohan. Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir ‘Orange is the New Black: My year in a Women’s Prison’, Kohan used the character of Piper, a highly educated, middle-class white woman as her “Trojan horse” – a gateway to depicting the lives of women of varying ages and from different minority groups. In an interview with WHYY Radio, Kohan explained that networks would not pick up a series depicting a bunch of Latina, black, old, transgender, female criminals.
OTNB, though billed as a ‘comedy drama’, does not shy away from the tougher issues which Kohen sought to discuss. For example, the exploration of Sophia Burset’s journey as a trans woman is particularly heart-wrenching, especially given the fact that the actress Laverne Cox is transgender. Relationships, both homo and heterosexual, are discussed and shown in a way mainstream television has never seen before. The sweet (and illegal) relationship between Latina Daya and guard John Bennett will have you bashfully smiling at your computer screen more than once, and judging by the amount of Tumblr pages entitled “Daya x John”, it is a relationship that has captured millions of fans.
While Piper, played by Taylor Shilling is the ‘main character’, it is the recurring cast of female inmates who steal the audiences’ attention. Flashbacks depicting a character’s backstory can change viewers’ opinion on the inmates from episode to episode. Each character is more complex than the last, and judging a book by its cover is not an option. Piper is by no means a boring character. From the outside, Piper looks like the run of mill 30-something-year-old with a soap-making business on the rise and a loving fiancé. However, her past holds more skeletons than Eminem’s closet.
Familiar faces; Jason Biggs (of American Pie fame) and That 70s Show’s Laura Prepon fill out the cast. But once again it is the unknown actors who draw you in. For Danielle Brooks, whose hilarious character Taystee provides constant comedic entertainment and at times some much needed light relief, OTNB is her first proper role, as is true for the majority of the actors playing the inmates.
As the series advances, the theme of each episode gets progressively darker, culminating in a stellar, stomach-churning cliffhanger in the last episode. Picked up for a second season before its first episode aired, OTNB is here for the long haul.
Netflix has grown from strength to strength with nearly 38 million subscribers in 40 countries. It has revolutionised the art of television watching. With its first original series House of Cards, headed by Kevin Spacey, and now OTNB, Netflix has gone from a place to binge on cult/rubbish and cancelled television series to a channel in its own right.
Orange is the New Black is yet another example of the high calibre of television dramas that are on our (computer) screens and leaving the film industry by the wayside. What a great era for television. However, not so great if you want to be productive in any way.
You will laugh, you will cry, and you will spend 13 straight hours in front of your computer and forget that any other world exists, other than that of a women’s penitentiary in Litchfield, New York. Stupid sneaky Netflix.