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By Winston Rice · June 2, 2014
Based on Piper Kernan’s 2010 memoir, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, Orange is the New Black, created by Jenji Kohan (of Weeds fame), tells the story of a bisexual yuppie, Piper Chapman, who is sentenced to 15 months at Litchfield Penitentiary after transporting drug money for her then girlfriend, Alex Vause, years prior.
With its second season set to premiere on June 6, let’s look back at Season One and some of the things that made Orange is the New Black an instant hit.
In a world full of diversity, the television landscape has never successfully represented it. While TV’s lack of diversity continues to be a hot button issue, especially regarding Network TV, OITNB shattered that norm last year by depicting a primarily all female cast, full of strong female characters of various ethnic backgrounds, ages, and sexual orientations.
EXPLORATION OF HUMAN SEXUALITY
Whether for power, love, or basic human need, the inmates at Litchfield are open to exploring their sexuality. Litchfield creates an environment where even transgenders don’t necessarily fall under preconceived notions and stereotypes.
Laverne Cox (who just recently landed on the cover of Time magazine) plays the refreshingly original character of Sophia Burset, a middle aged, African American, transgender woman, who just so happens to have a wife and son, too.
It’s nuanced characters like this that pique viewers’ interest and rightfully so.
GOOD BLEND OF COMEDY/DRAMA
OITNB is undoubtedly the best kind of dramedy, consistently balancing between comedy and drama with dark strokes of genius. Jokes are thrown but never at the expense of good dramatic moments.
In “The Chickening” episode, something as silly as finding a chicken eventually takes on a much deeper meaning for Piper. By the end of the episode, she finds the chicken, but it is just out of reach – just beyond the Litchfield fence. This chicken represents hope for Piper; it’s reachable, but she first must deal with her past, specifically her crime and the woman she committed it for, before she can finally feel freedom.
Using flashbacks as a narrative device, OITNB is able to provide rich, intriguing backgrounds to the Litchfield inmates, giving viewers insight into the former lives of the women.
These flashbacks show how Piper and the other women have or have not changed since incarceration, bringing greater authenticity to the present day storylines.
While most of the women Piper meets have found a way to adapt to the harsh realities of prison, Princess Piper, at least at first, desperately tries to hold onto the life she had before, refusing to accept the rules and social norms set in place inside the walls of Litchfield. But as the season progresses, we can see some transformation in Piper. Through her interactions with the other inmates, Piper learns the kind of strength it takes to survive in prison.
With Netflix as its media platform, the show is already ripe for binge watching, but it’s really the writers and producers of the show that have made OITNB worthy of its binge-worthy status, plying viewers with dynamic characters and superb story progression, often times ending episodes on well earned cliffhangers, whether they be emotional or consequential.
For instance, take the cliffhanger at the end of the Season One finale – Piper sheds any last shred of her princess image by beating the crap out of Pennsatucky – an act that will undoubtedly have plenty of repercussions heading into Season Two.
Speaking of which….my predictions for Season Two are as follows:
FROM PRINCESS TO VENGEFUL PAUPER
After nearly beating Pennsatucky to death, Piper will get thrown back into solitary and have plenty of time to concoct a more calculated and covert revenge plot against Pennsatucky and her minions.
“BYE BYE, ALEX”
This should come as no surprise. It’s already been revealed that Laura Prepon will have a much smaller role this season, but she’ll be back. The story of Alex and Piper isn’t over just yet.
A SHIFT IN POWER
With Red no longer running the kitchen, there is bound to be someone else who tries to rise to power…or at least rival Red for it.
This is more of a hope than a prediction, but after Larry dumped Piper at the end of season two, I just wonder how the show will manage to wedge him into the plot without it feeling forced.
DAYA AND BENNETT EXPOSED
Daya and Bennett’s illicit affair and love child will be discovered and undergo the threat of exposure at the hands of Pornstache, who will find much pleasure in blackmailing them.
So there you have it. By creating diverse characters worthy of exploration and refreshing plot points worthy of the characters, Orange isn’t just the new black. It’s also the new standard.