Tuesday 24 June 2014

TV REVIEW: S1&2|Orange is the New Black

DETAILS: Netflix series, confirmed for season 3
EPISODES: 13 in each season

PIPER ~ Taylor Schilling
LARRY ~ Jason Biggs
ALEX ~ Laura Prepon
RED ~ Kate Mulgrew
PENNASTUCKY ~ Taryn Manning
DAYA ~ Dascha Polanco
TASTEE ~ Danielle Brooks
NICKY ~ Natasha Lyonne
CRAZY EYES ~ Uzo Aduba
SOPHIA ~ Laverne Cox

Piper, a a high-flying New Yorker, is sent to a women’s prison for a crime she committed ten years ago. It’s a different world in there.

I had been hearing whisperings about how this show was for a few weeks before I decided to dive in. I am unbelievably glad I did.

I’ve never seen anything like Orange is the New Black before. It’s fresh, original, side-achingly funny and gets the ole’ cogs turning – I’m in love with it. It could so easily be all about show offs and bullies and fights and a serious, psychological prison drama, but it’s all that, with a whole heap more. This show combats sexuality, sexism, racism, prejudice, poverty, bullying, religion, friendship, love, corruption of authority and *breathe*.

For me, one of the most prominent issues in season one is Sophia’s plight. As a man to woman transsexual, Sophia is fighting to maintain everything she worked so hard for and is being denied her hormones. It brought the issue into the mainstream and into thought; I’d never even considered what would happen in such a situation. There’s an episode in season two where Sophia teaches all of the girls about their downstairs anatomy, and they knew nothing about it! It’s a bit of an eye-opening scene really, and completely unheard of on TV!

Orange is the New Black is most definitely not afraid to showcase female sexuality in all orientations. It’s empowering and reassuring; I just love how open all the girls at Litchfield are about it. Piper and Alex’s relationship is a fantastic example of this. Ten years ago, Piper was fully in love with a woman, and how she’s engaged and in love with a man, but one doesn’t discount or lessen the other – love is love. I was constantly torn between her relationships. In the beginning of Piper’s time in prison and in the flashbacks of her life before, Larry and Piper are adorable. But there’s something about Alex that brings Piper alive, makes her take risks and you can see the spark in her eyes. I just wish she wouldn’t keep letting her down...

All of the relationships in Orange is the New Black are intense and intimate and so easy to become completely invested in. The girls have to make a home and a family to survive in prison. They’ve fallen into groups, usually designated by race or culture, but it’s Taystee and Poussey that I love the most. They silly games they play, they work together in the library, and they make a hilarious double act. Pure brilliance. I was devastated as they were forced apart by the vicious, evil, infuriating V. I bloody hated that woman!

All of these relationships have so much weight due in part to the backstories of childhood and what got them thrown in jail that are drip-fed through the episodes. Each one seems to focus on one character as their storyline develops in the prison. Not a single character is as they seem and nothing in the OITNB world is black and white; in fact, I’d say it’s all grey. Each of their crimes has a reason, some of them unexpected and some of them seemingly uncharacteristic. 

These well-rounded, funny and sometimes scary, but always realistic, characters enable the show to make strong comments about important issues: the issue of sexual relations between inmates and COs – whether consensual or not, it is considered non-consensual – brings up issues about rape and rape culture; the stigma and effects of mental illness is explored by Suzanne, or ‘Crazy Eyes’ as she’s known, who by the way is an extraordinary actress; the care of the old in prison as they deteriorate; Rosa shows how the seriously ill aren’t given live-saving treatments because the government won’t fund it. These are all issues that I personally wouldn’t know existed due to my general lack of experience of the American federal system; I really hope these aren’t the issues female prisoners face in UK institutions.  

I’ve fallen head over heels for this programme and I urge every single one of you to tune in. But be warned, you’ll fall in love too.

RATING: 10/10

Oh my God, yes. Seriously. Just do it. Right now. Unless you have deadlines or need sleep or have children to look after or anything that prevents you from watching an entire season in one go, really.

You really don’t have a chance once you start this, but you’ll regret finishing it all in one go!


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