Programme Review: Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)

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I was a little late to this party! I watched series 1 in March and am well over two thirds of the way through series 2 now. Those of you unaware should know that series 2 has only just appeared on Netflix. Series 1 was uploaded last year. The show is based on a real life story, though I imagine as always it has gotten buried a little in the need to create an episodic series with a cliff-hanger every 60 minutes.

Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) is facing prison after she had, 10 year earlier, been involved with a drug importer Alex Vause (Laura Prepon). That these two are women and were in a lesbian relationship is inconsequential early in the series but as the first episode concludes it becomes apparent that while Piper is now with a male partner there is concern that she could go back to her old ways. She even considers getting pregnant before going and handing herself into prison.

As the series becomes more about life inside the prison we are treated to all sorts of characters that are deeply flawed but beautiful in their own way. Each episode focuses on one of these women and looks at either how they got into prison or the road that led them there. Often it is the most inconsequential characters that have the most compelling back stories. Many of the roles have been fleshed out in series 2 as a result of viewers taking to these characters back stories.

At the heart of this story (and trying to keep it as spoiler free as possible) is essentially a woman who may not be all that she appears. When Piper goes into prison we feel a deep sympathy for her but as things proceed we realise that she is not the person we thought. During the course of series 2 I think she starts to catch up with us in that thinking. There are episodes in series 1 where Piper is oblivious to the damage she is causing through her own selfish actions.

It is here that the similarity between Breaking Bad ends. After all a central character that you feel less and less sympathetic for is now old hat. It appears (and remember I haven’t finished series 2 yet) that Piper may have realised her flaws and embraced them. Perhaps she can be redeemed. There is a scene where she is asked if she can’t wait to come out of prison and go back to being her normal self. In that moment she realises she never wants to return to being that person.

In the flashbacks it is clear that the chemistry between Piper and Alex is incredible. As a gay man I have to admit that a series is good when you can feel the sexual tension sizzling off the screen between two lesbians. This is not catering for my “tastes” but love is love. At the heart of it that is what this series is about. If it isn’t pure love that might get you through prison and out the other side then it is a love that you can only have for yourself.

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It is a series that does also focus on the lives of the guards as well as the inmates. All of whom are perfectly cast and carry their parts well. Inevitably they are as flawed as the inmates in most cases. They however are also not above redemption. In fact even the most flawed or “evil” of characters is not one dimensional. I know this is not new in a series but here often it goes even further than most. At no point is anyone anything less than 100% human.

I encourage you all to take a month’s subscription to Netflix and watch these. Cancel it right away if you have to but if you bought two series of a show on DVD or Blu-Ray you could be looking at £30 so £5.99 is really not that bad.

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