Thanks to a dear friend of mine, I have access to hundreds of thousands of movies and television shows on Netflix. Every so often I log in and fall captive to an old ’90s movie, or another episode of Arrested Development. But the web has been abuzz with talk of the latest Netflix exclusive, “Orange is The New Black,” so I knew I had to check it out. It’s easily the best decision I’ve made all summer and I just had to write about it. It’s spoiler free, so read on even if you haven’t watched yet!
8) The Cast
I love when casting directors give fresh, young actors a start; particularly when they’re women of color and don’t fit the gender binary. Granted, the chemistry between Larry (Jason Biggs) and Piper (Taylor Schilling) is absolutely brilliant, but the addition of more unknown actresses has strengthened the show in more ways than one. Actresses such as Michelle Hurst who plays the stalwart Miss Claudette, Laverne Cox (a trans*woman) who plays the impeccable Sophia Burnett and Danielle Brooks who plays the spunky Taystee are an amazing boost for black females in Hollywood. It makes me so overjoyed to see black women featured in such quality television, regardless of the show’s exclusivity. So many talented, black actresses are overlooked in this industry, but OITNB is debuting some incredible, beautiful talent to this world.
7) Length Per Episode
There’s nothing like marathoning (or, to quote Piper, “binge watching”) a good show sans commercials. Those three to four minute stretches advertising kitchen cleaners can really kill a mood, but not this time! OITNB was released and produced through Netflix, so you are promised an uninterrupted 51 minutes to an hour of ad-free content. If you can avoid it, don’t ever press pause an episode. Every minute is addicting, so for you serial marathoners, it’s perfect to turn on and just consume. I finished the season at 5:30am on my day off and I regret NOTHING. Once you start, you just can’t stop.
6) The Humor
For a show about imprisonment, it’s really, really funny. The humor is rather sly, subtle, and not always intentional, but there were times I was left wiping tears from my eyes from laughing so hard. OITNB doesn’t try to get a laugh out of its viewers, nor does it force awkward or even offensive jokes on the audience. It’s effortless and I think that’s a universally appreciated kind of humor. Don’t get me wrong, the show can have its serious moments and does come with some heavy baggage, but the humor isn’t unnatural. I think Jenji Kohan (the incredible creator of the show) found a great balance between drama and comedy that completely rounds out OITNB.
5) The Backstories
One of the best parts of every episode is the focus on the backstories of the myriad of characters the show is host to. While the show does focus on Piper, the main character, and her daily struggles, the show takes care to center in on different characters every episode. These backstories reveal so much about a character; how she got into prison or why she is the way she is. It reminds me of the fact that everyone has a story, and everyone has reasons of why they are a certain way. Seeing the backgrounds of characters like Miss Claudette (I’m still crying, btw) and Jenae explained, while the stories of Red and Daya go unfinished, not only explains so much, but it leaves room for character development further down the road.
4) The Supporting Cast
I cannot stress enough how important the supporting cast is to the show. It’s like every character is significant to the story as a whole, and to remove them just wouldn’t work. There would be so many scenes just lacking without this strong ensemble. Big Boo, Yoga Jones, Cal and even Larry’s parents (to name a few) add an element that is entirely necessary. Also, I wouldn’t know what to do if Taystee and Sophia weren’t a part of the plot. They give me life.
3) The Sex Scenes & Female Sexuality
All right, I’m going to get real here. Never before have I wanted Donna from That’s 70’s Show to throw me onto a bed and have her way with me until now. The sex scenes executed on this show are not only hot – they’re not in any way directed with the intention to turn men on. That’s the problem with the typical “lesbian porn”; it’s in no way intended for lesbians or for women. It is all shot in a way to entice a male audience. There are no cliché female prison stereotypes portraying negative female sex and lesbian rape. Instead, OITNB starts up a dialogue about sexual fluidity and doesn’t marginalize lesbian sex to a certain “type” of woman. It’s worth noting the trans*woman representation and their approach to Sophia’s transition and her relationship with a woman. Trans*women don’t get enough media representation for a group of individuals that need feminism just as much as I, a cis-het woman, do.
2) The Realism
OITNB shies away from absolutely nothing. It’s real and nitty gritty and doesn’t sugar coat anything, which is incredibly important when telling someone’s story. Of course you want to show strong women, but I appreciated those moments of vulnerability – women can be strong and hold their own, even in instances of sadness of depression. They’re strong in spite of their upsets and it’s something I really took away from this show. We all have some kind of strength within us, even when we don’t realize it. OITNB keeps it real on the plight of the working class WOC and the racism and hardships we can face. On the flip side, there’s so much cultural richness and expression (real Latina women speaking non-textbook Spanish) that exposes a genuine side of being a WOC. There’s nothing manufactured or plastic about this show.
1) The Little Things
Once you start watching, you start to feel like you’re one of the prisoners. You become so invested in everyone’s highs and lows. It’s like you’re in a pair of beige scrubs serving a 21-month sentence in Litchfield. That emotional attachment brings out some serious warm fuzzies, and makes you appreciate every single little moment throughout the season. I couldn’t help but feel proud every time Piper gets a win (even though romantically she’s a really selfish person, but we won’t go there). The instances between Poussey and Taystee will have you clutching your sides and reaching for your phone to text your best friend just to tell her you love her. Norma’s breakout in the season finale will have you in tears. The Bennaya relationship will make your heart sing and give you some hope that love can survive in the darkest of places. I watched this show over the span of about 3 days and I felt like I was a part of a family. I don’t know many other shows I can say that about.
So if you have the chance (and internet access) spend the time watching Orange is The New Black. I had high hopes for it from all the hype and it completely surpassed all of my expectations and now I’m left salivating for season 2.