Up until last weekend, I hadn’t seen a single episode of Orange Is The New Black, but thanks to an early exit for England and Spain in the World Cup, and not much else on telly, I’ve now seen the entire lot. 26 episodes (both seasons) in just over a week. The exact definition of binge watching. A phenomena that has really come about with the invention of Netlfix, an online streaming service which allows you to watch as many films and TV programmes as you like for a monthly subscription.
Along with House Of Cards, Hemlock Grove and the fourth season of Arrested Development, Orange Is The New Black is an original series made by and for Netflix. The first season launched last July (2013) and after proving a massive streaming success, the second season launched just under a month ago (6th June 2014).
Probably the best thing about the likes of Netflix making original programmes, is the fact that once a series launches, it doesn’t just launch with one or two episodes, it launches with the entire lot – normally, and in this case, 13 episodes. If Netflix released their programmes in the same way as ITV or BBC or Sky, then we’d only be up to episode four of the second season right now.
So, what’s Orange Is The New Black
all about? Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? Is it any good? Well the series is based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, Orange Is the New Black
, which follows the Brooklynite as her wild past comes back to haunt her, resulting in her arrest and detention in a federal penitentiary. The series kicks off as Piper gets ready to trade her comfortable New York life for an orange prison jumpsuit. What she finds when she gets there is unexpected conflict and camaraderie amidst an eccentric group of inmates. More on them later.
Now onto whether the show is a comedy or a drama… Well, I’d be more inclined to describe the show as a drama rather than a comedy, although there are parts that are funny, and as for whether the show is any good – yes, it’s excellent. It’s easily one of the best dramas I’ve seen all year, and despite spending most of my time watch television programmes from the UK, Orange Is The New Black
made me sit up and pay attention and 26 episodes later I’m very pleased I did.
If you were to compare Orange Is The New Black
to any UK shows, I guess you could compare it to Prisoners’ Wives
or Bad Girls
, although (in my opinion) this is much better than both of those.
If there’s one thing America do really well in television, it’s making you care for the characters. For example, in Breaking Bad, love him or loathe him, you care for Walter White and get to know every side of his character. In Friends for example, your favourite friend chafes depending on which episode you watch because we are able to see all dies to a persons character and what their character grow right in front of us.
The way in which Orange Is The New Black is structured, each episode take a look back at what life was like before prison for one of the inmates, so we get to learn what led them to Litchfield Prison in the first place, and we begin to see them less as criminals (in some cases) and more as people.
I think the main reason that characters are better developed and explored in America (not always mind) is because of the difference between series and season length. In the UK, series are often no longer than 6 episodes, and a second series is almost never a guarantee. This means that writers tend to write characters who can be explored in 6 episodes and when the second series does come around, there’s little left to learn about your main protagonist.
In America, seasons are anything between 13 and 26 episodes long, with a second series almost always considered and thought about. This means the writer has a much longer time to develop a character and means that loose ends don’t always need to be tied up in the episode, or even the season, that you’re watching, which is most certainly the case in Orange Is The New Black.
Although this is very much an ensemble piece, Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling, Mercy) is on paper, the lead character, because as I mentioned earlier, the series is based on the book by the real Piper, Piper Kerman.
Despite being engaged to Larry Bloom (Jason Biggs, American Pie
), Piper once had a relationship with another woman called Alex Vause (Laura Prepon, That ’70s Show
‘). Alex Vause was part of a drug smuggling ring, and influenced Piper to join, which led to her entering prison.She may not be the strongest character, but Taylor Schilling gives playing Piper Chapman a very good go and I really enjoy the way she plays her. On the surface, she’s a sweet girl but her life is one big mess, as she battle her sexuality – Is she or isn’t she a lesbian? Her marriage – Will Larry be waiting for her when she gets out? And her violent temper – She’s quick to make enemies in Litchfield but how much of it will she take on the chin, and how far will she go to get her revenge?
One of my favourite characters in Orange Is The New Black has to be Crazy Eyes, aka Suzanne Warren, who is played brilliantly by Uzo Aduba.
One minute she’s the funniest person in prison and you’d love to have her as a friend. The next, she’s switched into crazy mode and you would most definitely not want to cross her.
It may be a bit of a cliche thing to say, but I honestly could not see anyone else playing the role of Crazy Eyes, the way Uzo is able to encapsulate such a complex character who’s happy one minute and psychotic the next.
Other characters in the series include; Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson, played by Danielle Brooks, who after some time out on parole, re-offends as she prefers life in prison rather then out of it, Italian American Lorna Morello (Yael Stone), whose NYC accent I adore, Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) is definitely the joker of the group and prefers cracking jokes to confrontation, Dayanara “Daya” Diaz (Dascha Polanco) who’s in there with her mother Aleida Diaz, played by Elizabeth Rodriguez.
Then there’s Nicolette “Nicky” Nichols (Natasha Lyonne) is a former junkie with a rather large sexual appetite. There are very few women who have escaped her lesbian advances. And who could forget Sophia Burset played brilliantly by Laverne Cox, and was formerly known as firefighter Marcus Burset, and after credit-card fraud, now works as the prison’s hairdresser.
In charge of the prison kitchen is Red, aka Galina Reznikov who is played by Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek), and sharing a cubical with Piper is Miss Claudette, who has some very strict rules about the appearance of her cubicle. I have to admit I didn’t like Claudette when I first saw her, but the more I got to know about her and her back story, the more I got to like her, and it’s a shame that she doesn’t appear in season two.
In a piece with so many characters, such as Orange Is The New Black
, there are always going to be one or two characters who you just can’t grow to like, and for me that’s Pennsatucky aka Tiffany Doggett (Taryn Manning) who has been sent to prison for shooting an abortion clinic worker in broad daylight. She dislikes Piper, and it’s perhaps for that reason that I dislike her – that and her constant religious and racist rants.
Then in season two we meet Yvonne “Vee” Parker, played by Lorraine Toussaint, and there’s no other way to describe her other than as a psychopath. We get to learn a lot about her back story in season two and just when you think you’ve learnt it all, she does something else to shock you.
And finally there are the people who work in the prison; Sam Healy (Michael Harney), who is a corrections officer and inmate counselor at Litchfield Penitentiary, Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow), who’s the assistant to the Warden, then there are the Correctional Officers John Bennett (Matt McGorry) who is widely liked by the inmates, and George “Pornstache” Mendez (Pablo Schreiber.) who is not, as well as Susan Fischer who is the most lenient of the Correction Officers, and finally Wanda Bell (Catherine Curtin).
That only really touches the surface of regular characters that we see in Orange Is The Black. There are definitely more characters in this than in anything I have seen before, and what’s great is that each of them have a story and over time, their story is told. I haven’t wanted to give away any spoilers. The first series is brilliant and left on a brilliant cliffhanger, but then the second season comes along and ups its game and the ending is nothing short of sensational… plenty to kick start a third season with.
There’s no denying how well written, and well performed Orange Is The New Black is, especially when you consider that for the majority of the cast, this is their first major role. So whether you’re into binge watching – or even if you’re not, this should definitely be the next series you watch, and I’m sure that like me, the brilliant final episode in season two has left me more than ever wanting more. And there’s good news, because a month ahead of season two, the series was recommissioned for another 13 episodes. The bad news is that we’ll probably have to wait at least a year to see the new series.
Orange Is The New Black
is now available on Netflix, where subscriptions start from £5.99 a month.