I was a little late to the dance when it comes to this Netflix Original Series created by Jenji Kohan, the mind behind hit television show Weeds. Now, I watched some episodes of Weeds, and I didn’t dislike it but for whatever reason it didn’t really hook me either, maybe I need to give it another shot soon, especially now that I’ve finished season one of Orange is the New Black, a show that completely pulled me in from the first episode.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I went into this show, only that it was from the creator of Weeds, and it was set in a women’s prison, oh, and that the inmates sometimes wore orange. The opening credits in which faces of women flick by to the sound of a Regina Spektor song, caught my attention right away, and within ten minutes I cared about the show and wanted to keep watching.
The season begins with our main character Piper Chapman who is spending her last few hours in her lovely home, with her friends and her boyfriend Larry (Jason Biggs), before heading to prison to begin a sentence for her involvement with a drug dealer. We don’t learn much to begin with, only that Piper is regretful of the things in her distant past that lead to her being sentenced to jail-time, and that her friends, and Larry, are supportive of her and giving her as much positive encouragement as they can before she walks into a world entirely foreign to her. Sentenced to fifteen months, Piper walks into prison and begins a new life in which she encounters an entirely different way of living.
Taylor Schilling is just marvellous as Piper, she bring sadness, humour, discomfort, anger, anxiety, fear and a variety of other emotions to the screen in ways that truly make you care about her and want to learn more about her story. The people that Piper meets in the first season help the show become something truly special, and the format in which we follow Piper’s story as well as each episode giving us backstory to specific characters works brilliantly. There is such a vast array of characters here, and by the time the first season comes to a close we have information on so many of them and we care about them in different ways too. The writing is just spectacular and the mixture of comedy and drama is so well realised that it never truly feels like one or the other, it just feels individual, fresh and exciting.
With a cast that included Laura Prepon (That 70’s Show) as Alex, Piper’s ex-girlfriend whom she shares the walls of the prison with and has a history with that is instrumental to the plot of the show. Natasha Lyonne (American Pie) as the sarcastic yet warm inmate, Nicky. Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek Voyager) as Red, the head-chef in the prison kitchen who holds a lot of power inside the restrictive brick and steel city. Pablo Schreiber as Mendez, a prison guard with major power drunkenness. These are just the tip of the iceberg of a phenomenal cast that makes this program one of the best in recent years.
There are thirteen episodes at almost one hour in length which means we get to, in the first season alone, spend thirteen hours with some of the best written and interesting characters on television in a show that makes you laugh, cry and cringe in equal measure. The build of Piper’s confidence in the prison is a joy to watch, and as we see her make new friends and accidentally create feuds with others, we see her previous life outside of the prison fade and her new life as a convict move to the forefront. A show that deals with relationships, bad decisions and making the best of a bad situation as well as coming to terms with decisions and actions that lead to such difficulty, Orange is the New Black is just one of those special shows that only comes around once in a blue moon.
Now, on to Season Two.