Friday, August 30, 2013

Sketched TV: Orange is the New Black

Get out your screwdrivers and chickens, we're reviewing Orange is the New Black!

Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) committed a crime while dating her drug kingpin girlfriend Alex (Laura Prepon) and now Piper has to go to prison. She quickly finds out it's nothing like she'd thought it would be.

I was going to review You're Next, but I can't really do that in length without spoiling it, soooo $$$$ 4 monies, it's a bloody good violent time, go see it. 


I recently finished Orange is the New Black on Netflix and I wanted to talk about that because: It. Is. Fantastic! I did not realize I needed a show like this so much. First of all, it takes place in a women's prison, so it passes the Bechdel test (and the new Mako Mori test) with flying colors. Second, there are plenty of POC characters in there. And even a trans character! It is chock full of diversity. 

And more than that, it's chock full of great characters and intriguing character arcs! Every one of these characters is interesting, and could be the main protagonist on their own. Take Red, played beautifully by Kate Mulgrew, who's the hard-ass in control of the soup kitchen. Or Daya (Dascha Polanco), who's having an affair with one of the guards. Or Taystee (Danielle Brooks) who is obsessed with sweets and fun but is actually a pretty smart librarian. Unlike a show like Dexter, where I only care about the main character and couldn't give two shits about anyone else, I could talk about these characters and the shit they all go through all day.

You'd think on first watching it, since Piper is the pretty white main character, it would be all about how hard it is for a normal woman to get along to all these crazy people, but when you get into it, Piper isn't all that normal and these people aren't that crazy. There's so much more friendship and camaraderie than you'd think among the inmates. After a while learning about them and seeing them grow, you notice that they're all just people who've made mistakes and are trying to make the best of it.

Not to say that it's not as bad as people say it is, because it can be. There are some truly horrifying things going down, and some scenes that make you terrified to find out what happens next. When an inmate gets sent to solitary, or worse, the psych ward, there's a real fear that they'll get lost in the system with no hope of getting out. One of the first problems Piper has to deal with is getting food after she inadvertently pisses off Red, head cook of the kitchen, who then proceeds to starve her out. But then it's just more amazing when Piper, and the rest of the inmates, figure out new ways to cope. She makes sandals out of maxi pads!

And then there's the guards and administrators, some of whom are real villains, while others are just trying to make do with the very little that's given to them. It's astounding what they'll do to cover things up so they don't lose face or lose their job. They don't and aren't allowed to see the inmates as people. Even the small things they can do can end up backfiring horribly. Take for instance Susan (Lauren Lapkus), a guard who views the inmates as equals and lets them slide a few times. She gets written up for not being hard enough on them.

One of the things I love most is this show's ability to take a character you thought was pretty nice and turn them into someone you loathe, and vice versa. Larry (Jason Biggs), Piper's fiancé, sticks with Piper as best as he can, but he doesn't know what she's going through and can never understand, and his actions get more and more detestable. There's a guard who seems to be on Piper's side from the beginning, but by the end he's ready to let her die. On the opposite end, there's Miss Claudette, Piper's new roommate (who might be a murderer) who seems like an imposing figure at the start, but, as we find out more and more about her, warms up.

Then there's the relationship between Pipe, Larry, and her former lover Alex, and the myriad of other relationships going on in the prison. They're all done so well and feel so organic. There's never a time where a relationship feels forced because the narrative demanded a turn right then and there. It's all really touching stuff. And it's surprisingly funny! You wouldn't think a show about prison would be so silly, but then you have a whole episode dedicated to the inmates chasing after a mythical chicken.

Orange is the New Black is an amazing new show. I couldn't imagine it getting green-lit and staying on any major network, even cable, but I'm glad it's here. You should all check it out!

THE GOOD: Great acting, great relationships, funny, touching, lots of diversity, shows realistic view of crappy prison system and its victims.

THE BAD: The season ending is a major tease.

THE VERDICT: $$$$$ Go watch it! If you already have Netflix, you don't have a reason for NOT watching it. If you don't, well, maybe try out that free month?

TV SHOWS LIKE IT: Weeds, Oz, Girls, Justified

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: The biggest problem Piper has in the prison bathroom isn’t avoiding rape or murder; it's finding an empty stall with a working door to poop in privacy. 

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