I just powered through the first two seasons of Orange is the New Black on NetFlix, and I have thoughts. There will probably be vague spoilers.
Also, this is all coming from a cis-ish, hetero-ish, female-ish, upper middle class(?) white person who’s never been anywhere near a prison, so take me with a grain of salt or whatever.
- The actress who plays main character Piper Chapman is either a kind of wooden and one-note, or her character chooses to react to damn near everything with an expression that I could only describe as “ethereal befuddlement.” She’s like a female Elijah Wood. If I were thrown into a scary and unfamiliar situation like Piper was, I would probably play my cards close to my chest, too – observing my surroundings with my face carefully blank. So I suppose the acting is true to life. But I find it irritating to watch.
- Laura Prepon (best known as the not-Mila Kunis chick on That ’70s Show) is a way better actress than she used to be (or maybe she just has more opportunities to strut her stuff on this show). Also, she looks hot as fuck with the dark hair and glasses and everything. Although her eyebrows are redder than her hair – they didn’t pencil them in brown – and that drives me nuts.
- Piper’s fiance whines early on about how it sucks that Piper is in jail because he has to jerk off now instead of having sex. And yet the fact that Piper probably has few or no opportunities even to masturbate is not addressed at all. I feel like this would probably be a very real issue for anyone with a reasonably strong libido who goes to prison, and it pisses me off that it’s whitewashed over. Once again, female sexuality is made out to be mostly about companionship or love and not, y’know…wanting to come. We do see one inmate wanking once, but that’s it. And it happens to be the most manly-looking, dykey inmate. Heaven forbid sweet, wispy blonde Piper wants to rub one out.
- There’s big-time bi erasure in the series, in that Piper’s on-again/off-again thing with Laura Prepon’s Alex keeps being spoken about in terms of “So she’s a lesbian now?” and “She’s a lesbian again?” One person adds “…Or bi, or whatever” once, but still. And when we later find out that a married (to a woman) dude is having an affair with a guy, again, everyone is all “Oh wow, so he’s gay.” BISEXUALITY YOU GUYS IT IS A THING.
- There’s a transgender woman character played by an actual transgender woman. The show brings up some valid issues that trans people face both in life and in prison, and handles them pretty sensitively, I think. It must have been pretty triggering for the actress sometimes and I winced on her behalf.
- The chick who plays Crazy Eyes apparently won an award for her performance, and FUCK YEAH to that because she is amazing. At some point it began to strike me, though, that her character was seeming like a racist parody – like how black people were often portrayed in old movies. That deferential, pathologically cheerful but scatterbrained thing. And I only started feeling that way in Season 2, so either her portrayal started out “quirky” but began to skew toward “minstrel show” later, or I’m just really slow on the uptake. Or I’m overreacting. I don’t know.
- When Crazy Eyes finds out that Piper said some mean things about her, Piper is all “…I said those things before I realized what a nice person you are!” which is bullshit – Piper actually saw her nice side right from the beginning and only later saw the weird side. But whatever, panicky weasel woman is panicky.
- Crazy Eyes develops a fixation on making Piper her prison wife, and I feel like people who behave as single-mindedly and obsessively as she did don’t only do it once in a lifetime, if you see what I’m saying; I would imagine it’s usually a pattern. And yet we never see Crazy Eyes infatuated with anyone else, or even having any lesbian tendencies. It’s like the show dropped that whole thread entirely.
- When Piper tells her visiting fiance that she hasn’t eaten in days because (basically) the inmates are hazing her, I seem to recall her fiance reacting with mild concern but not really seeming to care that much, which is odd. He’s a thirtysomething upper class white dude. One would expect him to be all THIS IS AN OUTRAGE AND I WILL COMPLAIN TO MANAGEMENT. It’s possible he wanted to and Piper stopped him and I just forgot.
- It’s so, so great to watch a show about women where you’re supposed to care about their lives and stories because they’re interesting human beings, not because they’re hot.
- It’s also great to watch a show where the characters are all three-dimensional people with nobody being all good or all bad. And it’s not that they fluctuate because the writing is uneven and shitty (Glee, I’m looking at you). It’s that they all have their own demons and foibles and causes and shit.
- I love how you get to see a bit of a bunch of the prisoners’ backgrounds and get insight into the events that shaped their personalities.
- I could be totally wrong, but I kinda feel like if this show were real, Piper would get a lot more flack for being an educated upper-class Aryan princess stuck in the middle of people who are mostly very, very different from her racially and socioeconomically. I mean, the other inmates react to her privilege a little bit, but not as much as I might have expected. For that matter, is it weird that she and Alex are the only two inmates on the show who have that young white English-speaking university graduate vibe going on?
- It is soooooo obvious to me that Piper is more into Alex than Larry. I do think she’s bi, but leaning heavily toward the chick side. Or maybe it’s just that she’s genuinely attracted to Alex whereas Larry is her “I’m tired of adventures and ready to settle down” fallback guy. I don’t especially like Piper and Larry together, at any rate. I think he’s a whiny, opportunistic little prick.
- I find that most tv shows start out portraying the main characters interacting with the world and then – as the show takes off – end up focusing on the main characters to the exclusion of all else, and the shows suffer for it. I feel that this happens to an extent with Orange is the New Black, in that the first half or more of Season 1 was about Piper adjusting to prison and how she and her loved ones are changed by her serving time, and then things shift to become more of a soap opera about the inmates. I wish they’d managed to maintain that juxtaposition of Piper and the outside world more, or at least kept on consciously chronicling her journey and the way prison is changing her. But she starts fitting in and finding a niche way faster than I would have expected and, as I said, the “How will this upper-class privileged white woman be affected by prison?” premise mostly turned to “let’s see what those wacky inmates are up to this week!” And it’s still entertaining, but to my mind not as smart or interesting.
- Taryn Manning in her meth-head makeup reminded me of Lindsay Lohan. I think the fake teeth changed the shape of Taryn’s face or something. I didn’t previously think the two actresses looked especially similar.
- I did not think prosthetic legs were hollow. Isn’t the end of a prosthetic limb solid and contoured to match and support the stump that goes into it? Also, I’m curious if it’s really possible to have such a muscular thigh when you have a prosthetic lower leg. Can you weight train with a fake shin?
- If you look up the word “plucky” in a dictionary I bet you’ll see a picture of Morello next to it. Also, apparently the actress who plays Morello is actually Australian and faking that New York accent, which is fucking amazing if true.
- What’s the deal with tools being so carefully monitored in the one episode but then later on we see Piper wandering around with a whole tool belt of her own, unsupervised?
- I gotta admit, when I first saw what solitary confinement looked like I thought “This actually looks like a kind of awesome break from regular jail.” I mean, I totally get that you get thrown in there without a book or tv or laptop or anything, and that after a while the boredom would drive you batshit. Also it’s awful that the guards mess with people’s food. But I’m an introvert and I think I’d be just fine – relieved, even – for at least the first day in solitary. My very own toilet! Privacy to masturbate! Nobody sleeping right across from me, snoring or staring at me or whatever! Pretty sweet deal. Or at least it would be if you couldn’t hear other people screaming and freaking out.
That’s all I’ve got for now, I think.