Having exhausted all of Game of Thrones Season 3 in about two days, as well as getting impatient for Girls to return (which I now learn won’t be until 2014!) I decided it was time I found a new show to watch. Enter: Orange Is The New Black.
The show stars Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman, who’s about to serve a 15 month sentence in prison for carrying drug money for her former girlfriend 10 years ago.
OITNB keeps you engaged by cutting between Chapman’s present day life in prison and introducing the back story slowly through flashbacks, rather than bombarding you with it all at once.
We learn the details of her crime as she tells her family about why she’s going to prison. Her mum’s response seems to bypass the whole drug money thing – ‘you were a lesbian?’ And we can see that Chapman is now worlds apart from the girl she once was when she committed this crime: for starters, she’s no longer a lesbian – she’s engaged to Larry (Jason Biggs AKA that guy from American Pie, who, incidentally doesn’t seem to have aged). As Chapman puts it, these were just adventures on her way to becoming “the nice blonde lady I was supposed to be.”
The show seems to strike the right balance between the serious issues of life in a female prison – race, sex and power hierarchy, with comedic moments which play on the naivety and privileged position of Chapman the “nice blonde lady.”
When Chapman meets her cellmates they ask what she’s in for, to which she responds “You’re not supposed to ask that — I read about it.” Her cellmate replies: “Oh, really, you read that? What, you studied for prison?”
Subtle moments between inmates introduce issues of race into the narrative – for example when Morello gives Chapman a toothbrush, telling her ‘we look after our own.’ At Chapman’s bemused look she tells her to stop being so PC – “It’s tribal, not racist.”
Later on, Chapman looks around in the canteen wondering where to sit – she’s told: “Okay, go sit there, she’s a nice, white lady.” The nice white lady is Yoga Jones, who on first glance I GENUINELY thought was a very haggard Sarah Jessica Parker – turns out it’s not. Yoga Jones seems like a pretty wise old bird, telling Chapman to remember that it’s all temporary. Their exchange makes us wonder what on earth this lovely old lady could have done to get herself in prison – which, I suppose, is kind of the point. I imagine the show will go on to use flashbacks a lot to fill in the back stories of the other inmates as well as Chapman.
This is definitely one of the best pilots I’ve seen recently, with characters and a storyline that are instantly engaging. We want to learn more about Chapman – how she got here and whether she will cope. Towards the end of the episode, Chapman rings Larry who tries to reassure her: “This is all just a big adventure with liver, and Yoga Jones, and racism,” which seems like a pretty apt summary of her experiences of prison life so far.
At the end of the episode, Chapman runs outside hyperventilating as it suddenly dawns on her what she’s got herself into. Now for the bombshell: her ex-girlfriend Alex turns up – the person who put her in this situation is also a fellow inmate – creating one of those ‘I need to watch the next episode immediately’ type endings.
On that note, I’m off to watch the next episode, immediately.