Words: James Ekron
“He’s a hitman? Oh thank goodness. I thought he was a rapist.”
Netflix has no respect for other people’s deadlines. Each time they drop a season of Arrested Development or House of Cards on the most-prone-to-procrastination-generation of all time they capture the market like no one in television can. They know we don’t gather at fixed times to catch our content but want access to it on demand. Jenji Kohan (the Showrunner behind Weeds) brings levity to incarceration to makes binge-watching all the more delicious.
Piper Chapman is the entre which Kohan uses to introduce us to Lichfield Minimum Security Prison. OITNB is a dramedy, based on the memoir of real-life Piper Kerman’s 13 month’s inside for money laundering, comprising cutting dialogue, female character-based diversity and criticism against prisons. In visiting them, Kohan heard from a Warden of both genders that “men are out for themselves and women are communal”. The show is an examination of that community and how they are more than the choice which lead to them wearing orange.
Season Two has Piper (Taylor Schilling) partly Zen, partly Ghost Face Killah. She is no dandelion anymore, declaring herself a “lone wolf and a vicious one”. There is the inevitable-ness of Alex (Donna from That 70s Show) in Piper’s life as, lesbihonest, they are her most emotively honest scenes given the cooling off of her engagement to Larry (who went from playing a WASP-y guy in American Pie to doing the same on OITNB).
One could like any amongst the crazy kittens in Kohan’s cradle. Whether it is Crazy Eyes’ crazy eyes or Red’s cherry vodka hairstyle (“do you want to look ‘fierce’ or ‘fierce’?”) the show pops in colour before deepening its characters through Lost-style flashbacks to each convicts BC era (Before Crime). These become more relevant when Tastee’s surrogate mom, Vee, enters and pivots internal politics. Strangely, octogenarians are the most violent amongst all the gangs but at least there remains the hidden pregnancy arc to maintain normality.
Kohan’s goal was “to get people talking” and this she does by touching on the allocation of funds to prisons. Having beeeeen being suspicious of her conditions (some scenes are shot in a real NYC prison) Piper goes looking for a rat. Her experience in the professional world help her uncover the truth at Lichfield so that it, in the end, it was Beercan:1 Figueroa: 0.
Kohan invokes an indulgent Mad Men style outro for her credits, for example, the anti-Vietnam ballad “Where Have all the Flowers Gone?” plays during a hippie protestation. Bennett’s fatherhood reluctance mirrors ‘Bad Bad Daddy’ and, whilst these allusions may be heavy-handed they encourage meaning rather than force it. If the sound track isn’t enough, the Grammy award winning ‘You’ve Got Time’ by Regina Spektor has prevented any fan of Orange from un-hearing the rhythm behind “Youuuuuuuuuu’ve goooooooot tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime!”
Piper Kerman found prison “an environment designed for scarcity.” Whilst she mixed concrete to keep busy and learnt “how to do the time instead of letting it do you”, she was altered by the experience of having nothing when she had so much before. With Orange a “tonal hybrid”, the show oscillates between drama and frivolity in a single scene to deliver a series which does not conform to categories but decides to make its own.
The show received 89% on Metacritic, 97% from Rotten Tomatoes and Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba) is pegged for an Emmy win. Season Two is, arguably, better than its predecessor as the show has clearly responded to what reverberates best within its fan base to deliver a tightly-scripted, better-than-before, version of itself. Orange is definitely still the new black.