Over the weekend, I finally finished the first season of “Orange is the New Black,” and my timing couldn’t be better: The second season will be released on Netflix this Friday.
Netflix hasn’t released figures on just how many people have seen the show thus far, but it is their most watched-original series ever. So I’m clearly not the only one, even if I am a bit late to the game (I’m also still on the second season of Mad Men, so timeliness is not my strong suit regarding pop culture).
The show grabs you with the “rich yuppie goes to prison after ex-girlfriend betrays her” premise, but luckily, there’s much more to it than that hook (there are also, it should be noted, significant differences between the TV show and the Piper Kerman memoir on which the show is loosely based).
The show wouldn’t work if the writers didn’t work to flesh out the characters beyond their initial archetypes. There are crazy-eyed lesbians and drug addicts, but they aren’t just that. Then there’s the purported protagonist. Piper possesses a startling lack of self-awareness upon entering the prison walls, not realizing how her initial judgments of her fellow inmates will come back to haunt her, and even when she does realize how she’s screwed up, she has trouble righting things. There are many moments throughout the season when she’s the least sympathetic character on the show.
Any show set in prison is going to be seen as subversive, but OINTB isn’t content to sit back and go “Look! Prison lesbians!” It doesn’t exist just for shock value, although it isn’t afraid of it. One of the most subversive things the show does is dare to view its characters as actual people without launching into a lecture on the evils of the prison industrial complex. This is not one of those after-school specials. This isn’t even “Scared Straight,” which the show skewers nicely in one episode.
Instead, this is a show that’s extremely confident in its writers, actors and even audience. There’s plenty of ground between being a saint and being a sinner, even for prison inmates, and that’s just one reason me and so many others have dates with our laptops this weekend.