Currently Watching: Orange is the New Black

CurrentlyWatchingOITNB

My friend recently got Netflix, and she suggested we share her trial account for the month to check out the fun things that are available.

Having heard a lot of raving reviews about Orange is the New Black, I decided to give the series a try. Currently on Season 2 Episode 4, and basically enjoying it. Contains spoilers, duh.

First thought is damn, representation — this series rocks that on so many fronts. People of different genders (they actually got a transgender actress to play the transgender character, damn!), different sexual orientations, family backgrounds, ethnicities, skin colour, and so on. I’m slightly disappointed the main character is a generic, privileged, pretty, thin, white, blonde girl — but the supporting cast more than makes up for it. All the supporting cast have lovely, interesting, varied backstories that make them so vivid and alive.

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And that’s the thing. MC Piper freaking Chapman is so dry and boring. I don’t think I can care so little about a character in any series, let alone a main. As a writer, we often strive to make our main character not necessarily likeable, but they should have something we can empathise with, root for, and ultimately relate to so we want to continue watching.

Piper has none of that. She makes bad decision after bad decision and, for a woman in her 30s, remains ridiculously childish (kudos for consistency) and refuses to take responsibility for any of said bad decisions (tells Alex she can’t lie in court, then lies in court, then blames Alex for telling the truth after what Piper has told her beforehand?? What?) She and her on-off fiance Larry are exactly the same on that front (by the way, nice job, Larry, out your still incarcerated fiancee on all the bad things she’s said about the inmates, season it, and announce it on public radio. It’s not like her fellow inmates can gut her in her sleep. But good luck with your aspirations and ladder-climbing. Keep the backstabbing coming). Her behaviour is naive if not outright self-sabotage. I have no sympathy for when she inevitably gets buried under her own recurrent mistakes and well-deserved karma.

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The rest of the cast, though, makes me feel for them. Some of them have definitely done their bad parts and are paying for it — Miss Claudette’s murder, Alex’s drug-peddling, Nicky’s drug use, but their motivations and aspirations really stick with me. The brief backstories you see as you progress through the episodes show their pre-prison selves and the good as well as the bad they’ve done. Miss Claudette murdered because a client was physically abusing one of her girls. Alex enjoyed her job and worked hard, despite its illicit nature. Nicky wanted a motherly figure instead of perpetual lecturing and her drug use was (at least in part) a way to seek attention from her mum.

Brings me back to Piper, who never ceases to lament how it was always Alex who ruined her life when she, Piper, went along with all the shenanigans of also drug-peddling as a 23-year-old grown-up.

What I also find quite endearing is, although all the girls are in bad situations, there was always some positivity in their lives when we see the backstories. Suzanne (Crazy Eyes) had the most supportive parents who were aware of the discrimination her skin colour could mean for her. Taystee had a supportive mother figure who encouraged her quick brains. Tricia still had her inner good honesty, keeping a list of things she’d stolen with a view to repay them when she was able (bless her, her death did break my heart). giphy2

The characters’ dynamics and conflicts are certainly the highlights of the series. Each of the supports are colourful and intriguing in their ways. Personally, I care nothing for Piper. My first and last positive spark was with her beating the hell out of Pensatucky (she deserved it, IMO) but aside from a way to see how one passes through the process of entering prison, she is probably the blandest and disposable character in the entire cast so far.

I shall continue watching.

Have you seen OITNB? What are your thoughts on it?

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