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19 July 2013 @ 09:32 pm
accent a droite, bitch  
I know I only post these days to talk about TV but hey, nothing notable is happening in my real life so w/e. (Except maybe how two nights ago my waterbed exploded and I woke up soaking wet. That was fun.)

Now that I'm sure you've all rushed off to watch Orphan Black on my recommendation, I have a new one for you: Orange is the New Black!

Netflix's latest venture into original programming follows Piper Chapman as she's uprooted from her pleasant suburban life to begin her year-and-a-half prison sentence for drug trafficking back in her 20s with her then-girlfriend. As Piper reluctantly settles in, the show expands to feature more of her fellow inmates, their backstories and relationships. It ranges from quite funny to occasionally very sad, and I think I was hooked by the second episode. (I would recommend that, if you find yourself put off by Piper in the first episode or so, you keep going, though, because the show does get much better once it starts placing more emphasis on the other characters.)

I am legitimately unsure if I've ever seen a show so dominated by female characters, and by such DIVERSE female characters. It's sad that it takes a show set in a women's prison to accomplish this, and perhaps sadder that a show about a women's prison can only get greenlit if it focuses on a "sweet" suburban white girl, but I don't think either of those things should detract from the fact that OITNB has a wide array of old women, young women, women of colour, gay women, bisexual women, poor women, trans women (well, trans woman). And obviously because the show's landscape is populated by 95% women you get all manner of relationships between them -- friends, best friends, enemies, mother/daughter, girlfriends, bitter exes.


I think as lead characters go Piper is interesting because she's pretty complex and she's massively flawed, to the point of occasionally being unlikable. But the strength here is that the show is keenly aware of how flawed Piper is, and the other characters in the cast routinely call her out for it. Her self-involved nature costs her and as the show goes on she's forced to realize that she isn't the nice, innocent, sweet person she wants to believe she is. In the end I couldn't say confidently that I liked or disliked Piper as a person, but I liked her as a complex leading lady and player in a narrative.

Her relationship with Larry I found insufferable, but again I think perhaps we're meant to? Her relationship with Alex is toxic too, but the difference I think is that Piper/Alex never pretends to be completely healthy -- they've both ruined eachother's lives in various ways and they both KNOW that and still find themselves drawn to each other, in full awareness of that. By contrast Larry and Piper are desperate to convince themselves they're a perfect match when nothing we've seen on the show suggests that they really are. Larry and Piper are both self-involved, and when they're separated by prison it becomes even more apparent. They care for each other, sure, but they also deal with the separation quite poorly and end up betraying each other. Sure, Piper having an affair is a significantly bigger betrayal than Larry watching Mad Men, but if Larry can't bring himself to skip Mad Men while his fiancee is being starved out in prison, well, I'm not sure their relationship was ever that sound.

I found basically all of the other inmates really great and really compelling. Taystee and Poussey are probably the funniest characters on the show, and their friendship is wonderful but heartbreaking. Tricia's book of debts destroyed me omg and so did Miss Claudette. I love Nicky and I find Alex really interesting as well -- she at least seems more self-aware than Piper. I thought Suzanne too was great -- she starts off as a bit of a stereotype and ~crazy~, but as the show goes on and you (and Piper) get to know her you realize how well-meaning she is, how smart (and educated) she is, etc; the scene with her listening to Larry's podcast thing was SO sad, but her rejecting Piper later on was so good. Pennsatucky is awful but there's enough humanity in her backstory that you feel bad about how she was treated as a child, and bad for how horrible psych ward is. Going forward I hope we get more information on more of the inmates and get to meet/learn other women's stories as well.

In terms of greater commentary on the prison system, I think the show is quite obviously a bit cynical, and rightly so. The numerous scenes where the guards and other people in positions of power in the prison abuse that power are infuriating to watch, but they seem plausible to me. The storyline with Taystee being released and the fact that she winds up back in prison because she feels it provides her a more secure life than the outside world was so sad. I also think the show has, in its way, touched on a lot of the various socioeconomic and various other pressures that wind up with people in the prison system wrongly, or because they were essentially forced into crime for necessity, etc, although it's a topic I think they could explore more and I would like to see explored more in the upcoming season(s). One of the rude awakenings Piper had in the early part of the season was that she was "the same" as the other women -- which meant, of course, that she wasn't better than them simply for being white and educated and privileged. But likewise I think it'd be nice for her to realize that in many ways she isn't the same, because simply through luck of the draw she was afforded many more opportunities and privileges that women like Taystee, who admits she's been in institutions all her life, never had, as well as the fact that regardless of Larry, when Piper leaves prison she has friends and family waiting who are well-off and can support her as much as need be while she finds her feet.

I can't think of anything else specifically at the moment. But basically, great show, possibly fails at a couple things (why do they describe bisexuality in every way without ever daring USE the word?) but succeeds at many more. Would definitely recommend if you like dramedy and especially if you're interested in stories centered around women.
sherrilina: Arthur/Chicken (Merlin)sherrilina on July 20th, 2013 01:42 am (UTC)
Lol, I have been wondering for the longest time (I mean casually enough that I never bothered to get around to looking it up) what this show was about, so thanks for the thorough explanation/review! I was just reading an article from a newspaper TV critic today saying one would be better off watching "Orange is the New Black" than "House of Cards"...in any case, it's neat to see Netflix doing all this original programming!

Still need to watch Orphan Black, I wish I had keyed in earlier while it was airing on BBCA...:/ I hope Netflix gets it soon...
Kammi: Charismakammgirl on July 20th, 2013 05:36 am (UTC)
I absolutely loved this series. I basically watched it back to back. I was hooked by every character.
Kali_thirty2flavors on July 21st, 2013 09:40 pm (UTC)
I know! Almost every character was fascinating to watch, the only ones I was bored by were the ones in Piper's outside life (Larry and Polly).
alephlacunaz on July 20th, 2013 06:25 pm (UTC)
placebetween on July 29th, 2013 05:46 am (UTC)
I just finished the Bora Bora Bora episode, but I can say that I am finally hooked! The show didn't really work for me in the first few episodes - the flashbacks are really horrendous. I'm not sure if that's because the writers don't have time to fit everything in or if the backstories just make me roll my eyes. I can't summon up any sympathy for the track star, for example, and while it's interesting to consider that everyone in prison is actually sympathetic in one way or another, it's weird that the most villainous person overall is Pornstache. No one can just be a criminal - everyone has to be sympathetic. Which, I get it, critique of the system and you have to connect blah blah blah, but it seems a little artificial to me.

I agree with what you said about Piper. I couldn't get behind Alex in the first few episodes, but she is weirdly one of my favorite characters now. I like her with Nikki, too - I wish they had more scenes together. Maybe that wish will be granted in the last few episodes?