Orange Is The New Black...or should that be Gold?
In an age populated by remakes, sequels, prequels, remakes on remakes and homage it is very difficult to find a show on TV nowadays that not only shows originality but demands viewing because of brilliantly written content and more importantly, engaging characters. Just checking the Sky Guide for today I see seventeen different crime drama shows on today...seventeen? Who has time to filter through those? Surely they cannot all be original? Only someone willing to view them all will possibly know the answer.
In a TV schedule so diluted by the same sort of shows and reruns you cannot help but wonder when the next original show will come along. There are shows that stand out like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. They aren't exactly original (both being based on graphic novels and books respectively) but they have the big bucks to get produced and become staple viewing. In TV ratings are key and it is sadly familiar to see a show cancelled quickly if it doesn't secure revenue for its production company. Then along come Netflix...
Netflix is an online rental company where you pay a set fee a month and you can watch films, TV and documentaries to your hearts content. During 2013 they started producing their own TV shows that were exclusive to Netflix. If you wanted to watch them, you had to sign up to Netflix to watch (which in all honesty is excellent value).
Orange is the New Black (OITNB) is one of those shows. For those who haven't seen it here is a basic plot outline. Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling, excellent) is an engaged woman living in New York City with her fiancÃ© Larry Bloom (Jason Biggs), a struggling writer. They live a blue collar life whilst Piper encourages Larry to pursue his big break in writing. Their domestic life is soon brutally shattered when Piper is convicted of drug trafficking and money laundering for her former girlfriend Alex (Laura Prepon, dyed black and evil). The offence took place 10 years before the shows timeline. As a result, Piper lands in a women's federal prison for 15 months. The show focuses on her adaptation to life within the walls whilst trying to retain her normal life beyond it. The only problem is, Alex is in the same prison...
Now you can be forgiven for thinking so far, so soap opera. When I first watched the show with my partner I was dubious too. I was brought up in a time when prison shows were violent and brutal affairs. Prisoner Cell Block H and Bad Girls were dark and brooding shows, not for the faint hearted. When Piper first steps through those prison gates, the walls are white and cream not brick or dark, the people amused. They mostly wear orange (as in the title) and green jumpsuits which give the scenery a picturesque feel. It's as if they made the prison more friendly for the viewing audience. It is this first impression that catches you off guard when she becomes embroiled in her first prison related escapade.
Litchfield, NY Federal Correctional Institution is portrayed in a way that you want to ignore the surroundings and focus on the characters. This is the main selling point of OITNB. The walls may be light, neutral and plain but most of its inhabitants are twisted and malevolent, destroyed by their past. You soon start to see the dark vehemence that taints every single prisoner within its walls. It's only a matter of time before Piper becomes involved in this, and the results are what you look forward to most. Her naivety is a heavy focus during the first episodes, something the inmates are more than welcome to exploit. You glimpse moments of hope but then you realise the wardens and guards are just as corrupted as the people they monitor. You wouldn't believe it was based on a book of memoirs...
OITNB uses a flashback narrative to portray Piper's past with Alex whilst maintaining the current timeline with solid character driven plots. Larry is shown on the outside coping with the grief and politics that so accompany a prisoner's lockdown yet is given his chance to write about the same incident to finally give him a break. Does he take it? Will Piper be happy with him exploiting her situation if he does? As for the prisoners, each episode focuses on one in particular. Flashbacks are shown to explain how they became incarcerated in the first place. Some of these narrative arcs span multiple shows and you feel welcome to this fresh spin on storytelling. Not since Lost has a cast been as diverse and unique. Yet with all this going on during the show, not once do you get lost (pardon the pun). To detail all of the characters would take a 1000 words so it best seen for yourself.
Despite the ensemble cast, Schilling and Prepon stand out amongst them. Sure the show is based on their characters actions but they hold their own in a show that simply could have drowned all the characters in meaningless popularity driven plots. Luckily OITNB doesn't suffer from this. The writing is taut, solid and very funny in places. Yet for all of the angst and atmosphere brought about by the inmates (Piper being offended by the cook's food is a pivotal story arc), some of the darkest moments are shared between Schilling and Prepon. The chemistry between the leads is explosive and OITNB doesn't shy away from the sexual attraction between them. You start to possibly realise that Piper isn't as innocent or naive as first thought. It's this possible evolution that drives the show and only makes you anticipate what follows.
So should you watch this show? That depends. If you are content with your reruns then I recommend it to get you out of the rut. If you like your shows original, funny, dark and romantic all at once then it is recommended. OITNB is set in in a bleak, hopeless world but the characters and storylines give you hope that one day, more TV will be like this. It should be a crime to miss this.
RATING: 9/10 - A solid original show that, for a change, puts its characters first....like other great shows, this is based on a book of memoirs but when the source material is as gripping and honest as this, you will just settle down for the ride. The only gripe is that 13 episodes was a little too short...but that's a personal preference. Season 2 can only be great based on the foundation laid here. Recommended viewing.
The Netflix trailer for OITNB.
Source: Netflix Official YouTube Channel.
Source: Official Daily Xtra YouTube Channel.
An interview with Taylor Schilling.
Source: Netflix Official YouTube Channel.
Last updated on February 17, 2014
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