July 22, 2013

Orange Is the New Black (Season 1)

Jenji Kohan, 2013

Netflix continues to release original programming, which will ultimately prove to be a solid competitor to premium cable channels like HBO and Showtime. This series is as good as any series that would be appear on those networks. This series is a dramedy based on the memoir of Piper Kerman. It's the story of Piper (Taylor Schilling), who is sentenced to Litchfield women's prison in Upstate New York. Sort of like a comedy version of HBO's Oz. It examines themes of homosexual romance, jealousy, loyalty, betrayal, reflection and ingenuity while incarcerated. The series is directed by Jenji Kohan, who has a long resume of past television credits that include Mad About You, Sex and the City, Weeds and the Girlmore Girls.

Taylor Schilling is perfectly cast as Piper. Piper is about to enter prison to service a 15 month sentence for her involvement with her ex-girlfriend's drug ring. Now engaged to new love Larry Bloom (Jason Biggs), she's pulled back into her past despite the fact she's tried to move on from the period of her life when she was involved in a lesbian romance with Alex Vause (Laura Prepon). Piper has a well defined emotional range. She initially feels like a bad stroke of luck put her where she is. She brings her outside self in, seeking acceptance and trying to make friends quickly - perhaps too quickly. It certainly takes time to become jaded like the others. With a prison filled with rough & tough women, her vulnerability sticks out like a sore thumb.

Fans of The Wire will be delighted to see Pablo Schreiber (who played Nicky Sobotka in Season 2), who plays a prison guard in Orange. He's one of the few guards, most of which are drunk with their power. They verbally abuse the inmates on a regular basis, causing you to wonder when they are going to get their comeuppance. It's also refreshing to see Jason Biggs and Natasha Lyonne far away from the god awful American Pie series. One of the most positively distinctive features of the series is the larger than life personalities that the cast provides. They all have a story, and the creator cleverly peppers in back-story to paint the picture.

There are plenty of laughs and most, if not all of them hit. There's clearly a talented writing staff behind the series, and the casting director deserves some serious praise because there really doesn't appear to be one miscast character in the entire series. Netflix already renewed it for Season 2, which is good news. With House of Cards and Arrested Development in their belt, they are clearly going to become a big player in the television world.

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