Why you have to watch Orange is the New Black
Orange is the New Black had me glued to the screen for the entire series. It was the wonderful blend of storytelling coupled with class actors that had me reflecting on which blend of characters I would end up being were I to be held captive behind bars for 15 months. Taylor Schilling plays Piper Chapman, the fictionalised version of Piper Kerman, whose memoirs the whole show is based on. Chapman walks into a bar looking for a job gets chatted up and falls madly in love with Alex Vause (Laura Prepon); an international drug smuggler. Hit the fast forward button and love mixed with a healthy dose of lust and Chapman’s persuaded to drug mule for Vause.
Over a decade passes and Chapman’s back to men and engaged to Larry, American Pie’s Jason Biggs living a life that’s wonderfully peachy albeit overly ordinary. Bigg’s isn’t playing his usual funny guy self, probably because he’s got nowt to giggle about, after all his life’s been torn apart leaving his identity all in a kerfuffle. No longer is his role the revered fiancé of a shiny haired business minded blond beauty, his journey is about discovering who he is when forced to stand on his own as his own.
It’s not so much the lack of sex that has him going stir crazy but the cuckolding that threatens when he discovers his beloved is banged up with her former shack up, who understandably Chapman now hates to the core. I love how the shows writers Jenji Kohan (Weeds) and Piper Kerman explore the theme of cause and consequence; it’s with the hope of getting his fiancé to keep her head down and ‘behave’ behind bars that Larry lies to Chapman about Vause proverbially fingering her in court. After daddy’s whisper-ispers in his ear, Larry is convinced that lying to Chapman will simmer her hatred of Vause down, stopping her from doing anything foolish to extend her stay. Only it majorly backfires, opening up a Pandora’s box of passion between the two.
Amidst all of this toing and froing through the love life of Larry and Piper, Kohan and Kerman present an array of eclectic characters. Crazy Eyes aka Susanne (Uzo Aduba) had me in stitches, an OCD sufferer claims Chapman as her wife without her consent. Like every other jilted lover she responds by creeping to Chapman’s bunk and while sharing a love fueled gaze, drops her drawers and happily takes a pee. If that’s not love I don’t know what is! Then there’s transgendered Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox) a former fire fighter who journeys from secretly wearing pink lacy underwear, to committing credit card fraud to fund the nips and tucks of her transition.
Cox really captures the heartache that comes when the pursuit of personal happiness means waving goodbye to the world that once embraced you. Sophia’s son is freaked out and looks at her with disdain and hatred, former work colleagues shiver and shy away and the wife wants you to keep the one thing that is the bane of your existence. Juggling society imposed roles with responsibility and integrity is a challenge we can all identify with as we muddle through this thing called life and is further explored by the former Trekkie, Captain Janeway.
Kate Mulgrew plays Galina Reznikov aka ‘Red’, a Russian enforcer who runs the prison’s kitchen like a true Tsarina. Chapman poor love, cussed the quality of Red’s cuisine earning her a bloodied tampon sandwich and then nothing but oxygen for days. Gotta love good old fashioned cause and consequence! Red’s lack of compassion however comes back to cut her when instead of helping 19 year old Tricia (Madeline Brewer) through her cold turkey withdrawal symptoms, she kicks her out of the fold into isolation and tragically back into the blackmailing pocket of evil prison guard ‘Pornstache’.
George Mendez aka Pornstache is played by Pablo Schreiber and this evil sumpn’s finger is in every pie! His side hustle as drug dealer to inmates earns him sexual ‘favours’ as credit and control over the vulnerable. Red hates anything to do with drugs but when Pornstache pee’s in her pot of gravy she’s left with little choice but to let him smuggle his stash in amongst her spuds and spinach. Tricia’s out of the hole, detoxed and happy with her progress only with no support system on the other side thanks to Tsarina ‘Red’, she’s putty in Pornstache’s paws. Buckling under his boot, Tricia swallows the entire baggie of pills she was blackmailed into dealing and overdoses.
A guilt ridden Red is forced to reflect on the role she had to play in the prison system’s pantomime of life and the death of one of her dear girls. I loved the amount of beard stroking I was compelled to do, attempting to balance morals, ethics and justice when a person is placed between rocks, hard places, thorns and spikes. Regina Spektor’s You’ve Got Time opens each episode so aptly when I compare the minimum security prison to Hollywood’s portrayal of the American high school experience. Social and racial segregation is the norm only now the bullying jocks are inmates and officers, a disrespect could earn you disablement or even death. “Everything” really is “different the second time around”.
How different would I look, feel and behave in those circumstances? Would I recognise myself in a year’s time if my liberties were taken, would I still be loveable? It’s not quite as clear cut, the argument of prison reforming a person when those are the parameters. Kohan and Kerman present a cast of characters of which I’ve only scratched the surface, with a wonderful amount of depth delivered with just the right dosage of humour against a backdrop of lesbianism, jealousy, regret and repercussions. I’m hoping season two graces my Netflix screen soon as there’s nothing quite like gorging on some well made dramedy.