Created by: Neri Kyle Tannenbaum
Starring: Taylor Schiling, Jason Biggs, Laura Prepon, Kate Mulgrew
So we have a surrealist drama, a thriller, a returning cult comedy, and now added to the Netflix roster of original programming is an edgy comedy along the lines of something you’d normally expect from Showtime. Orange is the New Black is particularly a Showtime-ish series more than HBO because it has that modern sort of clever approach to humor as seen on shows like Weeds rather than the more in your face comedy of Curb Your Enthusiasm over on HBO.
It makes sense that Orange is the New Black has that sort of Showtime Weeds feel since the creator of Weeds is responsible for this Netflix original. Taylor Schiling (Argo) plays Piper, a woman whose past comes back to haunt her when she is charged with a drug crime she was part of committing when she was much younger and in a lesbian relationship with her partner in crime who is played by Laura Prepon (That 70’s Show). Things become even more complicated when she enters prison to serve her term and finds herself in the same facility with her ex-girlfriend and the woman she believes named her in the case. Jason Biggs (American Pie) plays Larry, Piper’s fiancé who not only wasn’t aware that Piper was once a part of a drug cartel but that she also experimented with being a lesbian.
The real story begins when Piper enters prison and meets the eclectic cast of characters that make up the other inmates. The expected hazing takes place and of course plenty of lesbian jokes. There’s also a surprising amount of intimacy at times and as referenced earlier there’s a Showtime level of nudity. Piper was starting a soap making business with her friend right before leaving home for prison and she and her fiancée only shop at Whole Foods and always buy healthy foods and organic if possible. These small character moments properly establish Piper as a suedo-hippe generation Y kind of person who would have the most kinds of problems finding her bearings in a prison where the eggs are powdered and the showers are open.
Orange is the New Black isn’t a sitcom, and that’s a good thing. This series is a true evolution of the work done on the Showtime series Weeds. The story is engrossing without trying to be because the characters are varied and interesting and the show is constantly amusing without forgoing story for an over the top laugh. Also, there is nudity but it never seems gratuitous; it generally serves the story. The cast all do a fantastic job with their characters. It’s great to see Laura Prepon in the spotlight again as she seemed to get looked over a bit after That 70’s Show because of all of the attention on Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis. Prepon may be the best actor of all of them. A really nice surprise here is Kate Mulgrew. She’s funny in this show while still executing the level of melodrama we’ve seen from her in previous TV and film outings including Star Trek Voyager. The actors get opportunities to stretch their performances outside of the jail cells too because they get developed in flashbacks to time before they were in prison. Most of these flashbacks relate to something that’s happening in current time in prison. This tool may be the weakest part of the show though as it isn’t new or innovative. LOST made the best use of these types of flashbacks and dozens of shows have copied that use since then including Orange is the New Black. With that said though the tool does work effectively here. This first season inspires marathon viewing without being riddled with cliffhangers; you just get invested in these ladies’ stories.