Words: Rosie Parry
So, a lot of people have been tweeting and posting about this new show Orange is the new Black and, as a TV show binger, I decided to watch the first 6 episodes last night. To give you a brief synopsis; Piper Chapman is seemingly a 'girl-next-door', sweetness and light type of character. However, ten years prior to the beginning of the show, Chapman went travelling after college, met an international drug exporter, became involved in a lesbian romance with her, smuggled a crap load of money through the airport and has now been named a decade later as being involved in the drug ring. We see Chapman's resolution to surrender herself to prison for 12 months and her preparation for it e.g. reading prison books, getting engaged to her boyfriend (Jim, from American Pie) and telling both his and her family about the offence with the excuse of being 'young and foolish' back then.
I set up my laptop, clicked play and leaned back into my armchair, ready to play critic. To be fair the titles were a great start, a medley of eyes, lips, smiles and frowns accompanied by the song 'You've got time' (recorded by Regina Spektor) which feels really fitting for the show, up-close and personal. So I sat silently following the plot for the first five minutes. My friend, who had been busy in another room came in and asked, 'so what's it like, then?' I contemplated for a moment, 'it's just begun and I've seen boobs three times.' We concurred that that was a pretty good omen.
Little did I know that by episode 3, seeing a pair of boobs was as ordinary and commonplace as brushing your teeth in the morning. Although, it must be said that there's more to this show than just breasts, we experience Piper's transition into prison life and the racism, violence, romance, sisterhood and the laughs that become part of her 'goldfish bowl' existence. Piper makes schoolboy error number one by insulting the prison food in front of the prison cook "Red" who is a don in the women's correctional facility. Next morning, Piper (or Chapman as she is henceforth know under the prison roof) is served a used-tampon sandwich, would you like that rare or well done? Piper is soon denied meals altogether and is being 'starved out', she has to rely on herself to survive and we see her become less Cher from Clueless and more of a savvy inmate.
Chapman subsequently learns how 'tribal' the prison is with inmates sticking to their own race, well except for 'crazy eyes' who adores Piper and calls her 'dandelion' and wife. This is what is called 'swirling', chocolate and vanilla apparently! We also learn that a lot of the prison guards are either useless, vulgar, sexual predators, blackmailers, corrupt or just generally unpleasant with the exception of one or two. As well as laughing at a lot of scenes, a lot made me feel edgy and empathetic. What would I do in that situation ? (fingers crossed I won't be).
It's not just Piper Chapman's experience we get acquainted with, each episode seems to follow an individual character on their road to being incarcerated. Many of the crimes are almost understandable e.g. one inmate killed a man who assaulted one of her young employees... she could be called a hero. We see Sophia, the girl who used to be a male fire fighter, denied of hormone tablets and looking regretfully back over the relationship she has with her disappointed son. We get to see Piper's fiancé visit alongside her bossy mother and frankly annoying best friend. Also, Chapman's ex-girlfriend, who landed her in the mess she's in, shows up while Chapman is mid panic attack and her boyfriend isn't so happy when he discovers that his fiancé is locked up with her ex-lesbian lover. And so unfurls a fascinating, hilarious and tense prison drama.
Did I mention that the show is based on a true story? Piper Kerman, writer of Orange is the new Black: My Year in a Women's Prison, did in fact spend 13 months in prison beginning in 2004. The experiences, the emotions and many of the characters are derived straight from reality but often enhanced or further explored by Jenji Kohan who is the creator of the Netflix show. The characters certainly do have a very real quality about them, so obscure and diverse a population, yet somehow cohabiting this small space and surviving through alliances they make and supporting one another with good humour and sincerity.
Personally, I found the show very endearing and entertaining, I can see what the hype is all about but I am only halfway through the first season so we shall have to wait and see how the show progresses. If you haven't seen it, I would suggest that you gave the first episode a try. The show is certainly not a slow starter and you will get an immediate sense of what the show's all about during that first episode, and whether or not you would enjoy it. If you're a teenage boy, due to the hardcore lesbianism, I would go as far as to say that you'll love it.
P.s. Jodie Foster directed an episode, for that reason alone, it's got to be pretty awesome.