Is TV as we know it dead?????!!!!! Is Netflix the only place we can get good shows now????!!!!!!
No. TV is alive and well and Netflix holds promise as a lead distributor for the future. But I'm not in the future predicting game; I'm in the "Orange is the New Black" fan club. We are few and we are annoying, but we know great television when we see it.
"Orange is the New Black" is based on the true story of Piper Kerman, a waspy shiksa* who ends up in prison for a crime she committed years earlier. The show takes a lot of liberties from there. It starts through the eyes of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) and then expands far and wide, populating the prison with an array of colorful characters. These are the kind of characters who normally aren't portrayed on television, and they're often the kind of people you never meet when you're a sheltered white boy from Connecticut. That's what good stories are all about: expanding your world and introducing you to the kind of things that your own life might be too short-sighted to ever see.
While watching "Orange is the New Black," I was reminded of an unlikely companion show: "Lost." Like that sci-fi drama, "Orange" uses the medium to its fullest extent by leaving its setting through flashbacks. This allows the characters to be more than just their present selves; in prison, you're not the same person you were on the outside world. In order to understand the new person, it is necessary to also see the old one. Also, if "Orange is the New Black" is "Lost," does this mean they're going to start having flash forwards later on? And does that mean Jason Biggs is the smoke monster?
But I digress. "Orange" is the second show created by Jenji Kohan, the first being "Weeds." If the last few seasons of "Weeds" left a bad taste in your mouth, then consider "Orange" as Kohan's way of pressing the reset button. This is a brand new world with an episode structure that literally allows endless possibilities.
"Orange is the New Black" is not just that female prison drama. This is a show about people who happen to be prisoners. Emphasis on the people part. That's why it expands to the characters' lives outside of prison, so there's a taste of life outside the prison walls. "Orange" is as much about life in prison as it is about people trying to maintain normality in a very abnormal place.
I wish I did a run through of each episode individually, and tried to cover the little moments that can get lost during binge watching. That will be for another time. So for now, I will try and recap all the best little tidbits of this awesome first season:
The Theme Song: The big debate is whether Regina Spektor's "You've Got Time" was fitting or annoying, or whether the show even needed opening credits at all. Most people were watching episodes in huge chunks so opening credits weren't necessary. However, they just seem like a staple of television at this point, and they are always a good way to set the mood for the show, and maybe allow some time to recap to yourself what happened in the last episode, as we live in a world where "Previously On..." may be all but irrelevant.
Best Episode: I am tempted to say "Lesbian Request Denied" because of Sophia's backstory (more on that to come) and the sheer weirdness that is Crazy Eyes. However, I am going to have to go with "The Chickening." This episode showed the strength of the comedy side of this dramedy, as this episode involved a bunch of prisoners chasing after a mythical chicken they believe is full of drugs. But it also expands the history of the prison and made the relationships between certain prisoners even more complex (specifically that of mother and daughter pair Aleida and Daya Diaz). Then, it ends at a moment so surreal that it begs you to immediately watch the next episode, regardless of whether the chicken mystery will ever be solved.
Most Interesting Backstory: Sophia. It is so rare to see a transexual character on television (besides Mrs. Garrison on "South Park," of course), so seeing one as a major player on "Orange is the New Black" was so refreshing. Sophia's backstory explored the consequences of such a major decision in such a deep, funny, and sad way. I couldn't stop thinking about it for days. It was this episode that assured me that "Orange is the New Black" is not just some female prison drama.
Craziest Revelation: Pennsatucky became a Jesus freak after murdering a nurse in an abortion clinic and inadvertently becoming a martyr. However, this was not an act of fundamentalism but rather simple craziness. Maybe you should be less judgmental of Piper's lack of faith, Miss Five Abortions.
Greatest Character Redemption: "Crazy Eyes" Suzanne. Suzanne scared me in the first few episodes as much as she scared poor Piper. Yet, a funny thing happened towards the end of the season: Suzanne got a chance to really talk. Turns out she may be disturbed but she's also an incredibly kind person. I am excited to see more of her next season. She seems to have her crazy eyes more open to what's really going on in the prison than most people there.
Greatest Backwards Character Redemption: Healy. Healy was my favorite character in the beginning. He seemed like an honest guy who wanted nothing more than to help Piper and collect Corgi bobble heads. But it turns out he's kind of a jerk. And he's really bad at his job. Then in the last episode, he walks away as Piper is close to death. In a show filled with some very dangerous prisoners, the guard is the villain.
Funniest Moment: The inmates bond while watching "Good Luck Chuck." It's actually a very sweet scene about escapism and the healing power of laughter, all while watching a Dane Cook movie. But hey, I guess that was the best that Litchfield prison could do. Also, if I were in prison, I would probably be okay with any comedy that I could get.
Funniest Jewish Moment: Oh man, is Jenji Kohan good at these. The tiny detail that Yoga Jones hung a dreidel up backwards is funny. Yet, I will have to go with episode one for this one: Larry's mother taking up his phone time with Piper with a string of neverending questions was perfect.
Funniest Irony: John Bennett is a war veteran and seemingly the most genuine guard at Litchfield. However, his amputated leg came not from war, but rather from an infection from a hot tub in Orlando. Does anyone else find this funny? Or am I just a bad person?
Pornstache: I believe Mendez deserves his own category. No matter how creepy he got he was always such a joy to watch. The moment that got me is when he did inspection while humming "Pomp and Circumstance." No matter how pervy he got, maybe I could always find sympathy because he really did care about his job. But mainly it's because Pablo Schreiber is such a fantastic actor. He made Mendez so consistently creepy. Here's hoping he lands an Emmy next year.
Corruption Off!: "Orange" also covers the lives of those who run the prison, each one of them a little more corrupt than the last. Strangely, authority often seems more like the bad guy than the prisoners themselves. I think nearly everyone working there would let someone die (which happened) if it was in their best interest. Except for Luscheck (Matt Peters). He just always looks like he just wants to go to sleep.
Weirdest Sex Act: Big Boo. That screwdriver. No further explanation necessary.
Best Character with no lines: Big Boo's dog. Because of course.
Saddest Moment: Miss Claudette (Michelle Hurst) is denied parole and the chance to be reunited with her long lost love. Some bad behavior lands her in the SHU. As she's escorted down she says "I don't care anymore." In a show that humanizes all of the prisoners and offers many deserved moments of redemption, this moment was unexpected and heartbreaking.
Saddest Trombone: Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow), who mainly seemed liked a spineless bureaucrat who couldn't get up without a stick in his butt, finally showed some humanity when he offered Susan Fischer (Lauren Lapkus) a bouquet of flowers. She followed the nice gesture by introducing Joe to her boyfriend. Just when it seemed like he had a victory. Womp womp.
"Kill Bill"-iest Moment: Piper beating the ever living crap out of Pennsatucky in the snow.
What I want to see next season: How Red landed in prison, how Daya landed in prison, Healy's backstory, Yoga's backstory (even though she already described it), where the hell that chicken is
And finally...the moment my childhood ended: Laura Prepon. Naked in a shower. Goodbye, Donna.
*I know this sounds offensive, but its just so fitting for this show. Also, that's how Terry Gross described her on Fresh Air. Terry Gross knows all.