Alright. So if you haven’t heard of or watched “Orange Is The New Black” (now known as “Orange”) yet, you’re missing out. You’re officially living under a rock. You’re two axels short of a bandwagon.
Netflix Originals have already been toted as the new future of TV (you can’t complain with no ads, no cable fees)- and “Orange” is no different. It’s addictive, makes you ponder your preconceived ideas of what defines a criminal, and could convince even the most straight-laced school girl that Katy Perry may have been on to something. Created by Jenji Kohan, the mind behind “Weeds”, the show centers around a WASPy blonde woman (Piper) who goes to federal prison for 15 months to make good for a non-violent crime she committed a decade earlier. Throughout the episodes, there are well-done flashbacks on her life, and the lives of the other inmates, to help you understand how they ended up in a federal Department of Corrections uniform. And the creators seem to have struck gold, as the show signed for a second season before it’s July 11th premiere on Netflix earlier this month. So what makes this series so great? Read on to hear some of my personal favorites (no spoilers!).
TOP 10: Why You Need to Binge on “Orange” Now!
1. Hot Donna
While I would usually hate to turn something quasi-intellectual into something about beauty… why not. For those of you familiar with “That ’70s Show”, you likely remember Lara Prepon’s character “hot” Donna. Well she’s back, and in perhaps her best role yet. While she may not be the redhead we grew up loving, she carries character Alex’s rockabilly style quite well. And hey, the prison setting allows for shower scenes. Plus!
2. They eat what?!
It’s easy to sit back and kind of scoff at the food depicted in the show, thinking to yourself that either it’s not really that bad or that they deserve it. Eventually though, you find yourself ready to riot on the food conditions and googling “prison food standards” in the middle of the night (…or maybe that’s just me). It makes you value your pretzels, organic produce, and ability to get more, unlike other non-news TV shows ever have. When you’re done with the season, don’t get mad at me if you start skipping on bologna and feeling bad for inmates with dietary restrictions.
3. She’s Such a LUG!
So as some of you in the LGBT community might know, a LUG is a “lesbian until graduation”- or a college girl who feels like having fun until they’re ready to get married. “Orange” makes it seem like there could be the same thing in women’s correctional facilities: a LUP(arole). Aside from highlighting this stereotype though, the show actually seems to hit on some accurate stereotypes of lesbian relationships- something not often done well. While we can all throw around words like “butch” and “femme”, the show goes a little further- and at least acknowledges that lesbian couples don’t have to fit into heteronormative boxes to be interesting, a seemingly first for TV. And yeah yeah, they all take place in a prison- not one’s idea of a great example for any community- but as the show continues, you start to feel more and more like it’s showing a not often shown side of America. One that we can all relate to on at least some level.
4. Not IT
For once! A really well done representation of a transgender character! While the “L” & “G” in LGBT continue to get more and more accepted roles in mainstream media, the “T” finally has a place. Perhaps it’s Netflix’s lack of need for advertising sponsors, but they took on the potentially risky character of Sophia Burset, played by the talented Laverne Cox. I would watch this series alone just to watch Sophia’s storyline. It is emotional, touching, and hilarious all at the same time. They could have taken the easy way out and made Sophia a “campy” character, or something easier for people not used to transgendered people to handle, but instead the show gives a clear view of several struggles someone such as Laverne Cox would have gone through throughout her transition and daily life. She is faced with taunting, being called “it”, and pain- but she also befriends some unlikely inmates and is shown warmth where viewers may not expect it. The inclusion of Sophia’s imperfect character is in my eyes, groundbreaking, and hopefully will be continued by other shows.
5. Based in Real Life!
That’s right, the story is based on the real life memoirs of Piper Kerman- and is not some Ambien-fueled dream of a Netflix employee. Once you’ve blown through the 13 episodes of Season 1 and start withdrawal for Season 2, set to drop in 2014, go ahead and read her memoir or check out her website.
6. DIY Like Martha
Much like the hilarious SNL skits post-Martha Stewart’s incarceration, this show gives you great insight to the ways that humans can be creative in captivity. While you may be at first impressed with Piper’s makeshift shower shoes, you’re even more impressed when you see several of the goodies Sophia creates. Are you likely to take any of these tricks and use them at home? Perhaps not, but it does still remind you what it’s like to put up with less. Hell, I’m half-tempted to try the Kool-Aid + Vaseline lip gloss for the next girl’s night.
7. Moral Compass
In the first episode, you’re likely to feel a bit of anxiety and not really be sure what you think of the cast of characters Piper is to endure for the next 15 months. But as the episodes continue, you start to gain respect, or at the very least curiosity, about the inmates. The episodic short back-stories about each supporting character lets you see the ways that each criminal came to be in the DOC. While they are fictional, it’s easy to see how these characters are at least somewhat representative of a prison population, and help guide the viewer to reevaluate their ideas on inmates- whether for better or worse.
8. SEASON 2
That’s right. Like mentioned in #5, there’s another season to look forward to! And as long as the writers don’t let it tank, you can expect it to carry on longer than that. So if you already watched them all, and followed step five, now read the actual New York Times “Modern Love” column written by the real Piper’s husband.
You very quickly become acquainted with George “Pornstache” Mendez’s character, a correctional office who makes you gag, literally. For once though, you get an excuse to use the word “Pornstache” in regards to a brush-shaped mustache, or perhaps even use “molestache”, without feeling bad. Either way, you’ll learn to hate this character. If you don’t…. I’m not sure we can be friends.
10. Did I mention, Hot Donna?
No really. Watch the first episode.