Monday, January 06, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Orange is the New Black, season 1 (2013) ****

TV-MA, 13 60-min. episodes
Creator: Jenji Kohan

Directors: Michael Trim, Andrew McCarthy, Phil Abraham, Uta Briesewitz, Jodie Foster, Constantine Makris, Matthew Penn

Writers: Piper Kerman (book), Jenji Kohan, Sian Heder, Sara Hess, Nick Jones, Lauren Morelli, Marco Ramirez, Liz Friedman, Tara Herrmann, Gary Lennon

Starring: Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, Dascha Polanco, Jason Biggs, Pablo Schreiber, Michelle Hurst, Taryn Manning, Michael Harney, Danielle Brooks, Natasha Lyonne, Kate Mulgrew, Emma Myles, Alysia Reiner, Nick Sandow, Lauren Lapkus, Joel Garland, Lea DeLaria, Samira Wiley, Matt McGorry, Yael Stone, Uzo Abuda, Catherine Curtin, Selenis Leyva, Constance Shulman, Annie Golden, Nick Stevenson, Laverne Cox, Vicky Jeudy, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Maria Dizzia, Lolita Foster, Beth Fowler, Abigail Savage, Jessica Pimentel, Kimiko Glenn, Madeline Brewer, Matt Peters, Lin Tucci, Tamara Torres, Michael Chernus

“Orange is the New Black” was one of the great pleasures of television in 2014. I do feel a little funny calling a Netflix show television, since it’s only available through streaming, but I guess there isn’t anything better to call it. HBO isn’t TV. It’s HBO. Netflix is just mind blowing.

So, with no “Louie” this year, “Orange is the New Black” easily became my second favorite show on television behind “Breaking Bad”. I was hardly alone in this opinion. Many people enjoyed jumping into the country’s penal system inside a female correctional penitentiary. We follow Piper Chapman, a fairly affluent white woman about to be married, into the big house after a youthful transgression catches up to her.

Like “Oz”, HBO’s 90s prison drama, part of what makes this show so successful is the large cast of incredibly interesting characters found behind bars. What also works is it’s peak behind the curtain to a world much more disparate than the one to which the majority of us are familiar. We meet Crazy Eyes and Red, Pennsatucky and Taystee. Yes, it’s impossible not to love Crazy Eyes once you get past her initial disturbing nature. Some of them are quite literally killers, while some just came from super tough situations. Some are both.

What the show really emphasizes, however, is that prison itself is a really tough situation. And while the show doesn’t once suggest that these people don’t belong in prison, it also makes it clear that it is not a place they want to be. However, that doesn’t mean the show is all drama. It’s filled with great humor, based primarily on the fact that these women are trying everything they can be allowed to make for themselves the most normal life they can behind bars. There is a surprising amount of humor to be found in this show. There are many awkward situations that it exploits for laughs as well as drama.

The prisoners aren’t the only people imprisoned by the penal system. Their families and guards are also presented as prisoners here. I’d like to learn just a little more about the backgrounds of the guards in season two, because I can’t for the life of me imagine why any of them would choose the career path they’ve taken. There are good guards and bad ones. I’m looking at you Pornstache. But even they are presented as people making choices, good and bad, to make their situation better than it is.

I finished “Orange is the New Black” much later in the year than most people who were initially hooked by its first season, made available last June. This is a good thing for me, since season two is that much closer to its release date. This is one of those series that I can imagine people will go back and watch again before they take on new episodes, because each one is so rich with detail. I can’t wait to see what happens in season 2.

Warning! The trailer below contains foul language. If you can't handle the language in the trailer, don't bother with the show.

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