Okay, so maybe you live in a cave, or are in a survivalist compound and that’s why you haven’t heard about the Netflix original show, Orange is the New Black. Any other reason is suspect and consider yourself called out. This show hits all the markers for what makes a show funny, intelligent, provocative, emotional and gripping. The shows second season premiered in June 2014 and a third is already green lit for production.
OITNB is based on the memoirs of Piper Kerman and the year she spent in a women’s prison. Accordingly, the main character’s is named Piper Chapman or simply, Chapman, as she is often referred to on the show and played by Taylor Schilling. There is no doubt but that the casting of Schilling is spot on, as are all of the often hilariously complicated characters of the show. Schilling brings the perfect blend of ignorance, annoying naivety, compulsive narcissism, soft-heartedness and an explosive fierocity that hovers just under the surface.
Season 1 was all about Chapman coming to terms with the consequences of her life decisions and how that led to her being incarcerated at Litchfield; a minimum security federal prison. Through her journey, we were introduced to a variety of characters and their various backgrounds. In their own often harsh ways, these characters served to put a mirror up in front of Chapman until she could finally see herself for who she truly was; and in so doing, encouraged the audience to do the same. One of the biggest takeaway’s (at least for me) was that whether you relate to Chapman or Crazy Eyes or Alex or Taystee or any of the many wonderful and well thought out characters, the fact is, any one of us, whether it’s one bad decision or a string of bad ones, can find ourselves in a similar situation. Or worse. I think that’s the message that digs into the subconscious of the audience and what connects us to the show. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man; this show speaks to both on many levels.
If Season 1 was about Chapman and her journey, Season 2 delves more into the lives of several other memorable characters on the show. As for Chapman, Season 2 is more about her finding her own power. Up until the day she went to prison, she spent her life much like a piece of drift wood. Now, forced to accept some harsh realities, she’s finally starting to grow up. She’s not the only one to make that journey as another inmate, Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson, played by Danielle Brooks, comes face-to-face with the twists and turns of her young life thus far. The arrival of "V", the woman who was like mother to her, tests her ideas of family and loyalty. Taystee must make some brutal decisions, the end result is quite the fitting compupence.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, the shows success is in great part to the many sublime and complex characters. Here are some particular favorites:
Galina “Red” Reznikov, played by Kate Mulgrew. Some may recognize her as the first female captain on "Star Trek: Voyager". Aptly nicknamed "Red" because of her flaming red dye job and not because she happens to be Russian, Red is where the crime buck stops at Litchfield in Season 1. Without question she’s the queen bee of the prison and wields that power like a true Czar. She’s all about loyalty, family and survival. Her core group of ladies, she treats like family and in return they are unwaveringly loyal.
Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, played by Uzo Aduba. The least I can say about Aduba’s performance in this role is utterly transformative. Is her character crazy? Absolutely, however, she’s also intelligent, sensitive, super vulnerable and oddly thoughtful. Beneath all that crazy is a little girl who just could never fit in or relate well to the people around her; even her own family who without question loved her and did what they could for her. Suzanne isn’t called Crazy Eyes for nothing. Simmering just above room temperature is a rage and fury that with the right amount of pressure can explode. God help the poor inmate that does that.
Nicky Nichols, played by Natasha Lyonne. There something so grotesque about this character. Could it be her raging libido or her disregard and contempt for anything resembling…well, couth. She’s part of Red’s crew, a serious former drug user and possibly the horniest lesbian in Litchfield. In short, she’s a hoot! Fair warning to those of a more sensitive nature, be prepared to be shocked, tickled and just plain grossed out whenever she’s in a scene.
George "Pornstache" Mendez, played by Pablo Schreiber. Those who watched the show, "The Wire" are especially familar with Pablo. His character in OITNB is miles apart from his role as, Nick Sobotka. Actually, he's somewhat a comedic version of the character he played on Law & Order: SVU. Take away the IQ and psychopathic tendencies and you're dangerously close to the ridiculousness Pablo brings to Pornstache. He's the guy you love to hate and love even more to watch. At times he even makes you want to root for him, if only to see him fall flat on his face later on down the road. Which he does. Often. Just when you think he's been vanquished, he comes strolling back on screen as if there was never any doubt that he'd rise above it all. He's just that good.
Finally, my favorite, Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett, played by Taryn Manning. I HAVE to say, that I wasn’t a particular Taryn Manning fan up until watching this show. I found her pretty one dimensional as an actor and wondered what all the fuss about her was. As Pennsatucky, I totally get it. As her name suggests, she’s a hillbilly, tweaker with absolutely no self awareness. She’s an opportunist and a bully, which I find hilarious since she weighs about a-buck-O-nothin; but boy can she run her mouth. Even completely sober, she has these delusions of grandeur, that she’s a profit amongst the swine and a conviction (pun intended) of righteousness even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. As a character, she’s a masterpiece and I can’t wait to see what she will do in Season 3.
There are so many more amazing characters, the Litchfield staff alone have oodles of "oh no they didn't" moments, but you will have to discover them all for yourselves. I don’t know how this show came to Netflix, if it was rejected by all the major cable networks or what, but if that was the case, than they are surely kicking themselves in the butt for passing. Either way, you’re better than that. Be better than that.