Riveting, dramatic, tragic, real, sexy, fun and hilarious is this show, which I gleefully binged on last weekend, only pausing for pee breaks. I can hardly wait for Season 2. I concur with Emily Nussbaum who describes Orange as the love child of the brilliant and horrifying HBO series, Oz and the lesbian 90210-esque show, The L Word – but better!!
Orange is a 13-episode series that takes place in a women’s prison. It is based on the true story of Piper Kerman – Piper Chapman in the show (played by Taylor Schilling) – a privileged white/blonde woman who is sentenced to 15 months in prison for transporting money for her (also white) drug-trafficking lesbian ex-lover Alex (Laura Prepon), who happens to be in the same prison. Piper is engaged to fiancé Larry (Jason Briggs) who is waiting for her on the outside.
I was excited to finally watch a show that humanizes a diverse array of women, does not reduce lesbianism to a pornified phase, and portrays real racial diversity (well, almost — South Asian, Arabic and Indigenous/Native American faces are invisible). I also love that the characters are of all ages, sizes and gender variance. I was especially pleased that a REAL trans woman (Laverne Cox) plays the role of the show’s trans woman Sophia, unlike the 2005 movie Transamerica which had Felicity Huffman playing the star trans woman role (fail).
The strength of Orange is the New Black isn’t that it’s universal and isn’t even that it’s women-specific, but that it tells the stories of the types of women who don’t get their stories told in our culture: black women, Hispanic women, fat women, butch women, bi women, old women, immigrant women, uneducated women – and even a trans woman’s story. When the season is done, you will be astonished at the vast range of women you’ve been exposed to and if you reflect on it, will probably be a little depressed that such stories are so rare in our culture (source).
Natasha Lyonne, who plays the smart and sassy character Nicky, says this about the show:
Women are really going to find something for themselves to really identify with, with this bunch. Everybody will be represented. You’re not going to be like, “Where am I?” And I think it’s going to be really fun for men to get to see women again. I feel like it’s been so long. It’s become so sterile, creepy, pre-pubescent, homogenized, dull and botoxed, that I think it’s going to be a real relief, in a way, for men to be like, “Oh, women! I get to be attracted to women of all shapes and sizes again.” There’s just something about telling the truth. I think we’re starting to have a bit of a revolt against the same sandwich, all the time. This show is going to feel like a real relief, like we can exhale again.
Though Orange is wicked awesome in so many ways and a refreshing change from the usual crap on TV, it is not without its flaws (is anything or anyone?) I appreciate queer writer and activist Yasmin Nair’s thoughtful critique:
Orange ultimately sees prison as the logical, if slightly flawed, corrective to society’s problems. Rather than recognizing the prison as the Prison Industrial Complex and questioning a system that keeps recirculating people (mostly of color) through its doors in order to survive, the show sees prisons as housing units, almost like sorority houses. The rationale here is that prison can be a fun place, if only some of the worst elements, like solitary confinement or bad food, were taken away.
[T]he show can’t conceive of the fact that the biggest hurdle for most of the women in prison with Chapman is not that they made “bad choices,” but that their future choices are foreclosed by prison. Chapman and white women like her can eventually get beyond their arrest records. The very existence of the show and the success of the book on which it’s based testify to the fact that for a white woman, a “bad choice” can become a second chance. It’s unlikely that a Black woman in the same situation as Kerman could simply walk out after her sentence and turn her experience into a best-selling book and television series.
Totally agree here, and I am also wondering how much Piper’s heterosexuality – in the context of the real Piper Kerman ending up with, and married to Larry – helped her “get beyond” her misfortune and capitalize on it. Larry’s sex, race and class privilege allowed him to work the publicity angles of the book. It got exposure in the popular magazine Marie Claire and The New York Times Magazine, and was promoted by writers Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) and Dave Eggers who are mainstream literature and media heavyweights and friends of Larrys’ (source) . Ironically, if not for Larry, we would not have a show to love so much. So, a sincere thank you to Larry and his privilege, for (indirectly) giving us some great entertainment (with a direct thank you to the show’s brilliant writer Jenji Kohan), but fuck it at the same time, not because he’s an asshole or doesn’t deserve success (which is purely based on the luck of what race/class/sex/ability/family we’re born into), but because everyone deserves a real chance in life, which just doesn’t exist in our hierarchical colonist slave culture.
This show isn’t a decolonizing one, but it’s a great and desperately needed start to portraying women as the diverse, complex and whole human beings that we are. Actually, that IS decolonization — humanizing the dehumanized (females in this case) — no wonder it feels good!
Orange gets 55 thumbs up from me. I think I speak for many women-loving women when I say I desperately want and need to see more “girl gets girl” story plots and endings. Perhaps the show will give us this gift (and it already does), as it is only loosely based on Kerman’s book.
I loved this ass-kicking rant that Piper unleashed on lezbophobic doucherocket prison counsellor Healy (played by Michael J. Harney) when he tried to convince her that her lesbian girlfriend Alex is “sick”:
The only sicko here is you. And “under different circumstances” what, I’d be your girlfriend? Is that it? Did I make you jealous? You put me in this hellhole for no reason. Wake up Healy! Girls like me? We don’t fuck ignorant, pretentious old men with weird lesbian obsessions! We go for tall, hot girls and we fucking love it! So that leaves you on the outside, living your sad, sad little life. You don’t get me, ever! So go fuck yourself!
I leave you with this Sexy Timez scene of Piper and Alex, when Piper got out of solitary:
(The song playing during this scene is “Walking Backwards” by Leagues.)
Though both women are “straight” in real life, self-described lesbian catnip Laura Prepon (Alex) had this to say about playing a lesbian:
People ask me what it’s like to play a lesbian and be in love with a woman and it’s really interesting because the one thing I learned is if there’s chemistry there’s chemistry — whether it’s with a man or a woman. Taylor [Piper] and I have really great chemistry so when we had to do love scenes it was comfortable because the chemistry was there and it comes across on screen. [uh huh!] I’ve done scenes with guys where there’s no chemistry and it’s awful, but with her it’s there (from here).
Some butch-on-butch Love Timez would be pretty sweet! Bring on Season 2, and keep the seasons comin’ forevs please!