Smart, salty and outrageous – Orange is the New Black

By Erin Clarke

I like to fancy myself a toughie but who am I kidding, I don’t live a “tough” life, things may get dicey from time to time but it’s nothing I can’t handle. I like to think that I can handle most things, that I’m strong enough to get through whatever life sends my way, but I’m beginning to think that there is one thing I wouldn’t be able to handle and don’t ever want to try -jail. This new train of thought has been brought about by the fact that I am currently watching Season 1 of the Netflix original program “Orange is the new Black”

This show is a revelation, part comedy, part drama but a lot of heart and a lot of self- reflection on my part seems to be a side note in my time with the ladies in Orange. Would I be able to do it? Would I break in the first week or would it even take that long? Would the rules be so obscure, as they are on the show that I would never catch on to them? Would I flat out lose my mind?

For those of you who haven’t watched or haven’t read about “Orange is the new Black” it’s one of the new series that have been developed exclusively for Netflix, along with House of Cards, that is swooping in on network and cable TV shows. It delivers a full season of the show at the same time so the binger can binge or it can be slowly devoured as per the viewers’ preference. It is the story of Piper Chapman, played by Taylor Schilling, and the current life altering jail sentence based on crimes committed at a very different time in her life. She was sentenced to fifteen months for a decade old crime, transporting money for a past lover who happened to be an international drug trafficker. This of course comes as a shock to her seemingly perfect WASP family as well as her current fiancé who knew nothing of his paramour’s past lover. The way that the show is introduced to us is quite interesting. The past has caught up to Piper. What would happen if we all had to answer for things we did a decade ago, or in our 20’s when we are generally much more free and ignorant to the consequences? I know if it was me I may not serve jail time but I wouldn’t want to answer for some dumb stuff at this point in my life from that time in my life.

Each episode shows us how Piper is dealing with life “inside”, the whirlwind of people beyond any type she has ever known and rules that wouldn’t and don’t make any sense to people with freedom, how the people in her life like her best friend and fiancé are handling this situation and the quest to keep her sanity. The other inmates are just as much of the story as Piper is, what did they do to get there; are any of them actually innocent or are they more dangerous than they seem? The characters are as different and interesting as can be: Russian head chef who runs the kitchen with an iron curtain Red; meth head Christian evangelical Tiffany and post op transgender Sophia, who has a storyline that is both heartbreaking and endearing at the same time just to name a few and we get flashbacks to who they were before their sentence to either make sense of the type of inmate they are or to help the audience empathize or dislike them.

So back to my original question, as I watch this fascinating, sad and funny show, was that the intent of the show runner, to see if we all would take our own inventory of how strong we are or could be, if we think we would break under such circumstances or would we get through it as the people we are? How much of you changes when freedom is taken from you, what would you do to keep your sanity when you have been starved out for close to a week after the first day and you insult the food (which happens to Piper as soon as she gets there, freedom of the tongue is dangerous in jail and punishment is harsh). Education is almost a deficit to Piper, she is pretty, blonde, privileged and smart and that already makes her very distinct target to the other inmates and the amount of times she is referred to as Taylor Swift in some way is hilarious. There is a hierarchy in these places, these women will make sure she knows her place and they have no intention of making her time any easier, which is both poignant and hard to watch at times.

I highly recommend this show, you should watch before the second season is released and catch up with “Orange is the new Black”, it’s not exactly “Sex and the City” but if you are gonna learn a lesson from a show, why not learn how to turn jalapeños into muscle relaxant -that seems like knowledge that may come in handy one day. Do you watch OITNB, what do you think of the show? Tweet me at erinl_clarke and let’s talk TV