I am very picky about the television shows I fall victim to, and I am picky about how I watch them. Recent obsessions include Girls, Arrested Development, and Parks and Recreation. I enjoy these programs like any good child of the 21st century, on my laptop and while multi-tasking. Sometimes I like to pair a good episode with a cup of Yumi Green Tea and watch while I straighten my hair. These are nice times. My current and MOST recent addiction is Jenji Kohan's Orange is the New Black. I watched an episode before I wrote this blog post and I will watch another once I finish. It's a new Netflix original series, born just six months ago in July. Several friends recommended it to me, and I can see why they love it so. I do too! It's witty, quirky, original, honest, gritty, disgusting, humorous, erotic, and real.
If you haven't see it, the story is based on the memoir of Piper Kerman (who, through Wikipedia, I just learned shares a birthday with me!) regarding her experiences in prison. For the reasons below, I think it's one of the best new shows on TV. Or, rather, the internet.
1. Strong female cast that kicks ass
TAYLOR SCHILLING. LAURA PREPON. MICHELLE HURST. It's not a mystery or myth: women are not consistently portrayed well in the media. I know there are exceptions, but there are not enough exceptions for us not to celebrate when a show like "Orange" comes around. The cast consists of women who are all different shapes, faces, colors, and sizes. It's important that audiences, male and female, receive exposure to this type of media. The women are imperfect because we are NOT perfect, and that's what makes us beautiful. More importantly, all of these women are phenomenal actors playing expertly drawn characters. These girls of Litchfield, while physically locked up, are running free. It's exciting. It's necessary. It makes me want to not shave my legs for a month and talk back to a security guard.
2. Friendship! Romance! Pain!!!!!!
I believe that the first mission of a solid television program is to make you care about the characters. (This is why 'Friends' turned into the cocaine of sitcoms. I cared about Ross and Rachel more than I did my own relationships.) Once that happens, we're hooked. We get invested in the various trials and triumphs. In "Orange," not only are the characters neatly sketched, but the plot weaves out story lines that have you pressing the "next episode" button over and over. Romance between an inmate and prison guard, tension between Piper and her ex-girlfriend/fellow convict, and maternal friendships have all kept me a dedicated/borderline addicted audience member.
3. Social issues are real and let's acknowledge them!
There's a lot going on in this prison. Racism and sexism up the wazoo. Litchfield is self-segregated into "tribes," a term that was used in Piper's real-life prison experience, that consist of Latinas, blacks, whites and "other." Male guards sexually harass the women without any consequence and the prisoners are often treated like animals. While it can be unsettling to watch, it's important to recognize. I like a show that sparks necessary questions. "Orange"does so in a simple, right way.
4. Unique and beautiful storytelling style
While the show is a linear narrative, the audience is occasionally taken out of Litchfield and back into the women's pre-prison lives. These flashbacks contrast the present action nicely, and allow us to see the women in all different sorts of light. We also get little tidbits of Piper's past, specifically in regards to her relationship with her fiancé (played by pie-lover, Jason Biggs), and ex-girlfriend ('That 70s Show' Laura Prepon). The storytelling is divine. I feel like I'm four again, drinking cocoa while my mother reads "Pat the Bunny." Of course, instead of cocoa it's red wine, and instead of "Pat the Bunny" it's "Engage in Prison Sex."
5. Everyones got history
We, as human beings, are quick to judge. I know I am, and I'm working on it(!!!). Everyone's a victim of this universal judgement, which sucks, because we're all messed up in our own pretty ways. Everyone has a story and a history that dwells behind what's surface. "Orange" is a great example of this, painting a disturbingly beautiful landscape of each character's past. We've got an open-minded, activist nun, a transexual fireman guilty of fraud, and a Russian mob-wife who's just trying to make some Chicken Kiev. The show looks at the female inmates under a magnifying glass; they're not criminals, they're people. And come on, who HASN'T woken up with BBQ on their boobies? Sometimes you fall asleep eating pulled pork. It happens.
My advice? Watch Orange is the New Black. If you don't have Netflix, get it. And while you wait for season 2, go watch Arrested Development. And then call me when you're done so we can put on our onesies, open a bottle of Red Truck, and talk about all of this.