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TV Waffle - Orange is the New Black (Season One)

Netflix original female prison drama.



Orange is the New Black is one of a number of recent Netflix original series. The entire series premiered on July 11th 2013 via Netflix streaming. For those unacquainted with this new form of serial entertainment, in 2012 Netflix began financing original content to be provided as part of their streaming service. One of the more interesting features of this format is that the entire series is released on the same day, allowing viewers to take in the material at whatever rate they wish. Orange stars Taylor Shilling as Piper Chapman and Laura Prepon as Alex Vause.
With the second season of this series coming shortly, I found myself really looking forward to the release more than I thought I would. This generally only happens for me with genre series so, I figured it might be a good idea to share some of my thoughts on the first season. The central character of the series is Piper Chapman, played remarkably well by Taylor Shilling. As the series opens we see her with her fiancé Larry Bloom (Jason Biggs) in the process of Piper surrendering herself at a prison to serve a 15 month sentence for a 12 year old drug trafficking offense. Once Piper is processed, the series follows her life as she adapts to her new environment. This becomes complicated due to the presence at the same facility of Alex, who we quickly learn was the drug dealer that not only caused Piper's current problems but was Piper's former lesbian lover as well. While the series is advertised as a comedy drama, I personally view it more as a straight up dramatic series with comedic elements.
Given the large cast of characters, there is a good amount of exposition to get through and the series handles it, in a manner reminiscent of the first season of Lost, through the use of flashbacks. This works for Orange as well as it did in Lost. All of the characters have interesting and sometimes tragic backgrounds but the one character that really stood out for me was a holy roller called Pennsatucky, marvelously played by Taryn Manning. Her back story is filled with some extremely dark humor that at the same time takes to task one of the directions America seems to be heading in.
We also get to see the outside world largely through the eyes of Piper's fiancé. This is a strained relationship as Bloom's Jewish parents really don't like Piper. Some of this has to do with the fact that she is a religious outsider but the fact that Larry is still somewhat financially dependent upon them does little to help the situation either. Without Piper there to defend herself, his parents use the opportunity to their advantage to try and force their son out of this relationship and into a "better" one. This is one of many things that comes to a head in the season's finale.
One of the things the show does an excellent job with is emphasizing the prison environment's difference from that of regular society. Actions that would have little to no consequence on the outside can lead to some rather dire ones on the inside. This is a lesson that the self-centered Chapman ultimately learns the hard way. It is these experiences and the transformation they force on Piper's character that make up the heart of the series. Piper is desperately trying to hold onto this outside world version of herself in an environment that makes it difficult to do so. This is further complicated by the presence of Alex, who is a reminder of the wild past that Piper was trying desperately to put behind herself in that outside world. One of the things I really respect about the series here is that Piper is far from perfect; she is a very ego-centric individual who is capable of some very self-destructive behaviors at times. Given the confined nature of her new environment, these two personality traits ultimately come to a rather ugly head at the season's finale as Piper burns a few too many bridges along the way.
As should be obvious from this review, Orange is the New Black has a lot of moving parts but they mesh together remarkably seamlessly. It will be interesting to see if the second season can continue this exceptional legacy. Season two arrives in its entirety on June 6th and I will definitely be checking it out to see if it does.



Nick Sauer

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