We couldn’t figure out a way to review it on a weekly basis, but Netflix’s ‘Orange Is The New Black’ is fantastic and needs to be written about. So a cavalcade of WeLoveTVMore staff writers got together with Twitter friend Bridget L. to answer some questions and express their appreciation.
Note: This article contains light spoilers for season one of Orange Is The New Black. If you haven’t watched and you’re worried about spoilers, skip to the final question, in which we tell you why you should be watching.
1) We all agree that Orange Is The New Black is an outstanding series. In your opinion, what is the single biggest reason why this show works so well?
Head Editor Kyle Trembley (@KyleLovesTV)
This is a series set in a prison, yet I’m not sure any show on TV, past or present, has treated its characters with more respect and dignity. Every woman in that prison is a three-dimensional, fully-formed human being. The show is structured so that in addition to telling the central narrative about a rich yuppie in jail, most episodes provide detailed, fascinating, and often painful backstory for one of the inmates in the supporting cast, often through a series of flashbacks. In this way, even seemingly minor characters who at first appear to be caricatures (Yoga, Aleida) are given impressive depth. In fact, the characters only thin out when you get to the men on the fringes, like anti-lesbian administrator Healy or crooked guard Mendez.
Associate Editor/Social Media Director Blaire Knight-Graves (@BlaireLovesTV)
Honestly—and I say this a lot—good writing is nothing without its cast. The key to Orange Is The New Black is that the protagonist (Piper Chapman) is not the most likeable character in the series, but she is also not the audience’s worst enemy. The ensemble does a phenomenal job with the material… especially the antagonist characters. Pornstache—the creepiest prison guard of all prison guards—is a particularly well-played character. If Pablo Schreiber (Pornstache) did not have such a grip on the essence of his character we would not be shrinking into our couches in pure and utter terror each time he came on screen.
Staff Writer Megan Haas (@meggh11)
There are so many to choose from! Everyone has mentioned the cast as being the strongest aspect, and it is. I think these women fit very well together on and off screen. The series has such a down to earth vibe to it and it comes across on screen. Although there might be a lot of pressure behind the scenes, it isn’t coming across to viewers. Being on Netflix might be the best part, and the strongest part, about this show. On network series there’s such a push and pull between the network and the series creators. They need to get things done on time, in on time, all so the show can go on air for a certain date. Now, I’m not behind the scenes of OITNB, but it feels like things are a little slower, a little calmer, and more boiled down to the core reason of why people make television: entertainment.
Staff Writer Olivia Richards (@RichardsOlivia)
This show is the perfect example of how to work with an ensemble cast. Although this series focuses on Piper’s journey, she is shaped and influenced by her experiences with her fellow inmates. Each character has a backstory, a tale to tell that precedes their individual incarcerations. This makes for well-rounded characters who, through their stories, pull us in emotionally because we can all see parts of ourselves in each woman.
Guest Contributor Bridget (@CoffeeByCaskett)
The cast! It was wonderful, especially as a woman, to see such a diverse and talented group of women brought together in one place (albeit a prison). The show hits on all races, ages and sizes and ultimately everyone can find at least one character that they can relate to in some way. Plus at times I kinda found myself wanting to be in prison with them all and if that isn’t a testament to their greatness I’m not sure what is!
2) While watching season 1, did you find yourself rooting for a certain character or relationship? Were you rooting against anyone?
What’s fascinating to me is how little pressure I felt to root for Piper herself. She is the central character in the narrative, no doubt, but the show is not exactly told from her perspective. ‘Orange Is The New Black’ doesn’t just allow its main character to be wrong, it appears to relish the opportunity to poke holes in her high-minded, soap-scented belief system. At times I found myself rooting for Larry and Piper to make it work, then at other times rooting for Larry against her (and vice-versa), and then still other times pulling for Alex to recapture Piper’s affection. My loyalties to the characters shifted with their behavior, and the way the show ebbs and flows feels entirely natural. While you’ll probably find yourself rooting for certain characters or relationships, the show itself lets the you develop those feelings on your own without pushing you in any particular direction.
I rooted against pretty much everything Piper did. Taylor Schilling does such a great job at being a dislikeable protagonist. You fear for her safety yet are in constant awe at the dumb and life-altering decisions she so carelessly makes. I’m rooting for Miss Claudette and Baptiste… still on the fence with Daya and John. Daya is an unfortunate, uneducated child who is making terrible yet necessary decisions to protect her family. It’s a complicated relationship, and the whole thing just makes you want to throw snotty tissues at your TV.
Pertaining to character, when the series first started I was rooting for Piper. She is the main reason why the series plot is moving forward. We meet people because of her, etc. Although she isn’t my favorite character, I find that I want her to succeed more than anyone on the show. In the beginning, I wanted to see her make it. I wanted to see her get past the first few weeks of hell and make it to being one of the inmates. Then I wanted to see how she adapted to her new life. I think it will remain that way for the rest of the series simply because she is the center force of the plot. Regardless of what people think of Piper, she isn’t going anywhere and she’s a strong member of the cast to lead the series.
I ship Alex and Piper SO hard. I love that Alex can read and interpret Piper between the lines. Their relationship is a constant push and pull, trying to push towards a future but being constantly pulled back by their complicated past. Both characters challenge one another, and frustrate each other to no end. The pairing is beautiful in its flawed and mismatched way.
I was amazed to see how invested in the Piper/Alex relationship I became. When the series started I was all set to hate Alex the way Piper seemed to do. But as it went it was neat to see the way both characters changed. Alex grew on me and you start to see that she isn’t evil and at the end of the day she really really loves Piper. Piper meanwhile, you find out isn’t the good person that she thinks she is and that she’s actually very manipulative. Regardless, these two are wonderful to watch on screen together and I can’t wait to see what season 2 holds.
3) This series is set in a prison, but has a very different outlook than, say, the menacing bleakness of ‘Oz’. How would you describe the tone and worldview of Orange Is The New Black?
Sharply critical of the institutions we create and empower, but glowingly optimistic about our ability to cope with them. The greatest trick that Orange pulls is the way it seamlessly transitions from “Piper is having a minor problem in prison and it’s funny” to “Piper is in serious trouble.” When Piper inadvertently insults Red’s cooking, it’s more or less a joke at first, a slip-up that any new inmate would make. Days later, when Piper is starving and Red is refusing to feed her, it becomes very real and uncomfortable. When Piper is sent to solitary, at first it’s a little enjoyable watching her get taken down a peg. But when the absence of a fixed end date sinks in – both for Piper and the audience – it becomes not only claustrophobic, but downright scary. Her freakout feels very real. And I won’t spoil the end of the season, but let’s just say the final 20 minutes are as jaw-droppingly emotional as just about anything I’ve seen. I can’t think of a single show that more effectively modulates its tone with its content.
Orange Is The New Black is so well crafted that it feels like it could take place anywhere. The series is a dramedy at heart, it just so happens to take place in prison. And then really scary things happen that remind the viewer that, yes, this is prison, and sometimes really truly terrible things happen in prison. Truly. Terrible. Things.
The tone of Orange Is The New Black is complicated. Sometimes it’s light and fun and other times it’s drama. But it all works. The series is airing because people want to watch something that they enjoy. When this show was first being discussed, it would have been easy to make it a drama that shows the harsh sides of prison. It would have been more realistic in this day to make it an adaption of the book and point out what we need to do better as a country to help our prisoners. Instead, it shows this message, but in a way that viewers don’t get hit over the head with it. We’re tuning in to see the characters lives, but while we’re doing that we’re watching what it’s like to be behind bars.
The show has a very optimistic view of this female correctional facility. We’re used to seeing shows like Beyond Scared Straight where prison is portrayed as dangerous and terrifying all the time. The women on this show are a community who genuinely support and care about one another. Many of the conflicts that arise on Orange Is The New Black are psychological, driven by an individual character’s internal dilemmas.
It seems that in a way we are seeing the prison through Piper’s eyes. When she first gets to prison it all seems very harsh and the people are very crass and not super friendly. However, as she finds her way, so do we and we see that this is actually a community of women who really take care of and look out for one another. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine on the inside but problems that do arise you find out aren’t much different than issues seen by people in every day life. You’re always going to have to find out how to navigate different personalities of whatever group you’re put into, whether it’s prison or a work or school environment.
4) Even though the narrative is centered around Piper Chapman, Orange Is The New Black is an ensemble show in the truest sense. Of all the terrific supporting characters, which one is your favorite?
Alex Vause begins the series as something of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl – Piper’s young, hot, wildly rich, drug smuggling girlfriend who lives exclusively in the moment with no regard for the future. In the first few episodes, she’s pretty much above the fray in the prison, gliding above the day-to-day grind that we see Piper learning to cope with. But over the course of the season, Alex becomes a very real person, with her own feelings and aspirations that are fleshed out in such an interesting and gradual way. This is a credit to the writing, of course, but also to Laura Prepon, who delivers one of the best performances in a show that could (but won’t) go full-on ‘Modern Family’ and sweep the Emmy nominations for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy.
Taystee. Miss Claudette. Boo. Morello. Red. Tricia. Boo. I think it must be Boo. Or Sophia. Or Boo. It’s all of them.
I am, hands down, a huge Alex fan. As a viewer, I love to see her interact with Piper because at first glance she isn’t anything like Piper. I loved how they used Alex to dig through Piper’s past and see what she was really like. Alex was the force behind how we got to unlock the old Piper and see how this juice cleansing, middle class woman was once a drug smuggling lesbian. I love how sarcastic she is and how she doesn’t care what people think, but at the same time she is human. She is feeling the effects of being in jail. With first stereotypical judgment, some would think that Alex is just some drug dealer who got caught. But as the series progresses we see that she is upset she is missing part of her life, she’s mad at Piper for leaving, etc. I think she will be the most interesting one to follow.
I absolutely love Crazy Eyes. She is so unpredictable and has the BEST one-liners I’ve ever heard. I love that the show doesn’t just use her as the comic relief, though. There is a distinct method to her madness, and she has her fair share of wisdom to impart on the often clueless Chapman (when she’s not trying to “swirl” with her…)
This is a toss up for me between Taystee (played wonderfully by Danielle Brooks) and Nicky (played perfectly by Natasha Lyonne). In the end I’m going to go with Nicky. Lyonne is someone who has battled her own personal demons in the past and seems to have come out on top with this role. I’m sure she can relate to the fact that Nicky used to have a drug issue, but ultimately it’s the perfect dry and sarcastic wit that Lyonne brings to Nicky that wins it for me. You seem to find yourself always rooting for her, even though you sometimes feel like you shouldn’t.
5) What would you tell to someone who is on the fence deciding whether or not to invest 13 hours in watching Orange Is The New Black?
If you care at all about TV that makes you feel something, then I cannot recommend this show highly enough. There is a bit of a Parenthood element to Orange Is The New Black, but crucially absent is the sense of emotional manipulation that, in my opinion, ‘Parenthood’ flirts with. Just as important, though, is the fact that Orange Is The New Black absolutely works as a comedy, setting up genuinely funny character-driven jokes while rarely dipping into cringe territory to get those laughs. Tonally, the show mostly resides in the Parks & Recreation / Happy Endings range, bright and upbeat, centered around characters that care for each other. But what pushes Orange to the next level is its willingness to morph into a totally compelling drama, and pay off those little character moments with sweeping, emotional scenes that will utterly wreck you. Basically, if you have any interest whatsoever in “dramedies”, you can’t do much better than Orange Is The New Black.
Orange is the New Black is an investment. You will ignore responsibilities to watch this show once you’re hooked. It’ll be just like that moment when two characters discover Battlestar Galactica in Portlandia. I’m notoriously difficult to be pushed into starting new shows because most people don’t understand what’s important to me in television, but Kyle was able to hook me with the following line: “It’s the most diverse cast on television, and each performance will blow you out of the water.”
Give it a chance. It’s a little racy at times, but it has developed an air to it that is unlike everything on television. You will find yourself rooting for every character that is in this prison. I could go on and on about how sophisticated it is behind the scenes, how camera angles work, how the music comes in at the right time, how character arcs are very important – but the average viewer could care less about that. This series gets down to the core element of why television is still going strong and that is because people want to be entertained. They want to sit down and care about what they are seeing on television.
This show will be 13 hours of the best television you will ever watch. It offers comedy, drama, tremendous writing, a phenomenal cast, and a completely original plot. This isn’t your typical “jail drama.” By the time you finish the season, you’ll be frantically hoping for it to be 2014.
I would say if you have even the smallest inkling to check this show out then DO IT! You will not regret it, other than the fact that once you start you won’t be able to stop until all 13 episodes are done! If you think that the idea of watching a prison drama about a poor drug smuggler doesn’t sound appealing to you then you have no idea! Orange is about so much more than prison and drugs. In fact if you asked me to describe the show drugs would be a ways down on the list of adjectives. It is a wonderfully diverse cast, excellent writing, great portrayals of women and not to mention a TON of comedy to keep you laughing throughout. It’s enough to warrant a month’s subscription to Netflix, you won’t be sorry!
Final note from Blaire: IF YOU START ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, THIS WILL HAPPEN TO YOU.