Orange Is The New Thing On TVquila

I blogged about Orange Is The New Black for tvquila. Here’s an excerpt.

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As Orange begins, Piper Chapman is completely at sea: self-surrendering with a commissary check which should have been mailed in, rambling about selling her designer soaps to people who’ve never heard of Barney’s, insulting the food to the chef’s face. Though her learning curve is steep, and she’s obviously bourgeois – people bring appeal letters for her to grade; though she has some ingenious solutions to sticky situations, she lacks real street knowledge or tattoos but keeps her boring hair; she jumps at buzzers while others react automatically – the prison world itself is quickly normalized to the audience.

By the fifth episode, Chapman’s fiancee and sister are the ones who seem out of place and out of touch, followed by Healy telling Chapman ‘the other inmates aren’t like us. They aren’t as intelligent.’ It’s taken five episodes for him to be this blunt about it because by now, we can mentally refute that. We understand how the inmates outsmart the guards, or how they were victims of circumstance, or how they’re posturing. Even the total assholes get a story which helps not excuse, but explain. You know, because they’re all people. Some are unadulterated evil. Most are not. We’ve begun to see how systematic dehumanization works, all while feeling much more at home with the inmates.

Part of this familial emotion is because we’ve gotten glimpses into the past of many of the key players; LOST-style, the episodes follow Chapman’s arc and several smaller arcs, but pick one inmate and give us flashbacks into her past, her crime, and her motivations. And LOST-style, Orange relies on the characters and their pasts being interesting to carry it through the sometimes soapy plotlines. And the inmates are interesting, and wonderfully inhabited by a cast of hugely talented actresses.

In Episode 6, Piper voices what we’ve long realized: “I am in here, because I am no different than anybody else in here.” Piper’s mother, standing-in for privileged white culture, brushes this off insisting a jury would have let Piper off, because – whether the jury would openly admit it or not – they’d recognize her social, class, and racial differences from the ‘general prison population.’ It’s so obvious, completely on point, we hardly expect the show to acknowledge it so bluntly, yet we’re grateful. After her mother leaves, Piper feels the need to apologize for this to Nicky, saying, ‘I’m a WASP. I’m working on it.” All this in an episode with scrabble and fighting whether to watch cooking shows or Discovery channel (does it get more ‘white signs of fauxtelligence’?) and a literate rap-off in which white people are soundly spanked.

I go on to compare the show to Weeds, talk about Laura Prepon’s masterful use of her character’s glasses, and examine what works versus what doesn’t. Click here to read the rest.

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