Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Orange is the New Black”

Dear Frank,

orange-is-the-new-black-posterMan, Netflix is doing great right now. I didn’t, like, LOVE House of Cards, but it was interesting to watch, and from there the original series Netflix has been putting out have been on par with the network and cable television I’m addicted to…

Oh, except for Hemlock Grove. You LITERALLY cannot pay me to watch Hemlock Grove. I’d rather watch The Newsroom. And The Newsroom makes me MAD.

My point is — Orange is the New Black is great. What happens in it? Let’s go over the broad strokes! (I wrote “broad strokes” without thinking about the vast amounts of women and lesbian sex that are in this show. Hopefully, Frank, forgiveness might be found in your heart.)

Orange essentially is the story of Piper Chapman, a nice educated white lady who finds herself in a place most nice educated white ladies never expect to go: a federal correctional facility. Turns out, when you help out your post-college lesbian girlfriend with her drug smuggling operation, the statute of limitations is 12 years, so if the feds get wise 10 years afterward, they’ll still bust you.

Thus, Piper leaves behind her Jason Biggs fiancee and an artisanal soap business (Piper is just a mess of hipster Brooklyn cliches — Episode 2 includes a flashback to her doing a cleanse!) to do 15 months of hard time, surrounded by an eclectic crew of ladies who are also paying their debt to society for a random assortment of crimes, including murder, robbery, credit card fraud and dealing drugs.

Being in prison is tough! And Piper, boy howdy does she struggle to fit in, making no shortage of dumb mistakes and social faux pas as she works to integrate into prison society. Turns out prison is a lot like a small town — the kind of small town you can’t wait to get out of.

Honestly, Frank, that’s all there is to the spoiler light version. But such a simple explanation for what is a deeply emotional, complex show, filled with characters who are given depth and layers over the course of the first season.

After the first three episodes, I was pretty sure that my favorite character was either Kate Mulgrew (that’s right, Frank, CAPTAIN FUCKING JANEWAY) as a hardened Russian con/cook or Sophia the transgendered hairdresser. But by the end, I really couldn’t pick. I kind of came to love Tastee and Poussey a lot?

And also, there was Crazy Eyes. Wonderful wonderful Crazy Eyes, who starts out pure predatory lesbian stereotype, and evolves into one of the show’s most honest, sincere and complex characters. Here is an animated GIF set that just hints at her depth.

Orange was created by Weeds creator Jenji Kohan, who I have discovered lately is responsible for a lot of mental trauma to TV fans, because every time I bring up Orange people immediately respond, with great caution in their eyes, “But did you watch Weeds?”

I’ve only seen through Season 2 of Weeds, so I’ve been largely spared from the show’s descent into madness. But I’m hoping that Orange‘s clear structure and rich cast spare it the same fate.

Seriously, there is a part of me that finds Orange really depressing, for this reason: I love it so much, and it’s so popular with many women I know, and the reason for that is that HOLY SHIT IT’S TOTALLY ABOUT WOMEN.

It is a show filled with unique, interesting, well drawn female characters, who have names and passions and aren’t just there to roll their eyes when Kevin James makes a funny. THIS SHOULD NOT BE ENOUGH OF A REASON TO LOVE A SHOW. IT JUST SHOULD NOT.

But the fact that a well-made, funny, smart, heartbreaking show that is largely about women fucking EXISTS is news. News worth celebrating.


About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of "X-Files" trivia.

Posted on July 20, 2013, in Some Spoilers, TV and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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