Orange Is the New Black, adapted from the 2011 memoir of the same name, is, in a word, perfect. Perfect pacing, perfectly scripted, perfectly performed. A voluntary incarceration to the couch proved a fine way to spend the weekend, and many who participated in this latest Netflix binge-fest can be spotted with glazed-over, bloodshot eyes and a cat-who-ate-the-canary look of satisfaction.
On paper, Orange can be easily dismissed as another … coming-of-age? coming-of-cage? female dramedy cataloguing a privileged white girl walking on the underprivileged black side of the tracks, the genetic makeup of which we’re all familiar. But there’s something refreshingly believable about the whole thing. Believable, but not entirely relatable, which is refreshing in itself. When people say they enjoy a particular movie or TV show because they sympathize with what the characters are going through, or relate to the tribulations in some way, it’s usually because they can point to their own stories with a heartfelt “I’ve been there.” This is not the case with Orange. (Save for the lady viewers who have served hard time in a federal corrections facility. Hats off to you.) Creator Jenji Kohan (Weeds) and her dream team pull off a perfect balancing act of challenging viewers to invest in the characters selflessly while keeping them at a believable distance. I’ll go out on a limb and assume the majority of us don’t have much experience in global drug rings, or surviving only on hope and heroin in the streets of New York. Just the starting line down those paths is one beyond most of our collective comprehensions. But Orange is a dramedic reminder that we don’t need to look to our own personal, limited understanding of achievement or struggle as the only avenue for empathy.
At the crux of the show’s palatability is an appreciated absence of heavy-handedness, despite the heavy content material. Idealistic social comments aren’t shoved down our throats and we’re trusted to draw our own conclusions, at our own pace, and tailor them as the show progresses in whatever fashion we find most meaningful. We end up caring for these women deeply because we decide they’re worth our care, not because someone on the other side of the camera is lecturing us.
This cast. My god, the cast. The chemistry of this cast is stunning, with Kohan providing a structure ripe for damn near D.D.L.-level method actors.
Yes, I recognize I just made that comparison. Anyone who I’ve offended may call the Jewish Journal front desk at (213) 368-1661.
Taylor Schiling is phenomenal as Piper Chapman, the college-educated blondie who co owns an artisanal bath soap business (“We made it into Barneys!”). She’s landed a 15-month sentence per her involvement with an international drug cartel, one her ex-girlfriend Alex Vause (Ex-Girlfriend!) occupied a large operational role. Laura Prepon goes full sex-pot mode as Alex, the tattooed alpha vixen with a soft soul. Piper’s fiancé Larry is played by Jason Biggs. Jason Biggs is Jason Biggs is Jason Biggs, channeling with ease his masturbation-obsessed, parent-helicoptered Jew Boy à la American Pie. Then there’s Pablo Schreiber, who absolutely kills it as Officer Pornstache Mendez, the prison guard creepster. Our consumption of him is entirely uncomfortable yet irresistibly delicious. Like Sriracha. He is the evil older brother of the entire Reno 911 cast and genius in his delivery.
Most important shout out belongs to the scene when Larry visits imprisoned Piper for the first time and their hug is cut short when a guard yells “No touching!” Anyone who burst into fan-girl/fan-boy ecstasy with the (intentional, I’m sure) homage to Arrested Development, another Netflix darling, I see you.