There is a new TV show that everyone is talking about right now, and with good reason. Orange Is the New Black, based on the memoir by Piper Kerman, is an original Netflix series that debuted on July 11. The great thing about a show airing on Netflix is you get every single episode all at once, so over the course of the last two weeks, I’ve watched all 13 episodes, which sounded impressive until my mom beat me finishing the season by four days. I already cannot wait for season two.
The show is set in a women’s prison in upstate New York. Piper Chapman (portraying Piper Kerman) is an upper class New Yorker who is convicted of a crime she committed nine years prior with her then girlfriend Alex (Laura Prepon). Chapman is convicted and sentenced to fifteen months in prison where she must struggle with leaving her comfortable life, her fiance (Jason Biggs), and face the harsh reality of a new life in prison. Inside, she meets quite the cast of characters, including her ex-girlfriend who she hasn’t seen in years, and must figure out her place among the inmates.
If my attempt at a plot synopsis isn’t enough to make you want to tune in, here are my top 3 reasons why you should be watching this show:
1. The cast is mostly female and KICKS. ASS.
It’s rare to find a TV show right now that features a mostly female cast. It’s even more rare to find a show that features minorities in leading roles. OItNB does both. The show also doesn’t shy away from LGBTQ characters: it even features a black, male to female, transexual character in a fully developed role. Each character is complex; you learn the back story of certain inmates in a series of flashbacks every episode. You find how what their lives were before prison and what happened to them to get them sent to lock up, whether it was a matter of wrong place, wrong time, or a lifetime of bad choices. Plus, OItNB passes the Bechdel test (as featured in an earlier Keysmashblog post by Heidi): there are more than two women in the work, the women talk to one another, and they talk to one another about things other than men. Additionally, the show tackles injustices within the prison system, such as the way male guards can take advantage of women, and the fear these women live in on the inside. By the end of thirteen episodes, you’ll find yourself rooting for these criminals, because this show actually humanizes inmates, and the inmate experience, not something other prison shows have conquered.
2. Race matters
Within the prison system, Piper soon learns there is a code to follow, like never insult Red’s (the head cook) food. But she also finds out that the prison is divided into its own subgroups and cliques, much like the outside world. Sure, there are other white women, some of whom come from similar upper class backgrounds as her, like the former junkie Nikki (Natasha Lyonne), but for the most part, Chapman is in a world unlike anything she’s ever had to face before. Though the show revolves around Chapman, a white woman, it’s not often we see a show equally devoted to the women of color in the supporting cast. Those woman aren’t just there for our entertainment, or to play the token side kick. As a black woman, it’s hard to see yet another show that features minorities as criminals, but in this case, unlike in many other shows, they’re developed characters, with more than just throw away story lines and dialogue, and for that, I am thankful.
3. It’s actually funny
The humor in OItNB is dark, but it’s fantastic. You’ll find yourself laughing at the women who go in the hair salon to get a “‘do like Rihanna.” Sex in the prison chapel? It’s a thing that happens. When Crazy Eyes tries to make a wife out of Dandelion (this will make more sense once you watch), you’ll die at her attempt at “romance.” The dynamics within each group only get better as the episodes progress, and the friendships/relationships get funnier and funnier. It’s also one of those shows that has replay value because some of the best lines happen so subtly, you’ll want to hear them again, and then search tumblr to find the gifs.
So, what are you waiting for? Block out a weekend, and get to watching this show. I promise, you won’t regret it.