Wednesday, August 7, 2013

TV Review: Orange is the New Black

I've given you all a few weeks to catch up to me on the new Netflix series, Orange is the New Black. You're welcome. Now let's discuss:

This is one of those shows that I justify watching because the writing is so good. I don't hold up all my television viewing to this standard--see So You Think You Can Dance--but the stuff I binge-watch, yes. Throughout the show I felt like I was reading a really good book: I learned things that fascinated me, I got to experience a way of life I hope to never experience in real life (i.e. life in prison), which makes for a form of armchair travel really, and I was continually surprised by the characters.

The real strength of the show is the supporting characters. Honestly, I think Piper the protagonist is whiney and annoying, but then she's set up for me to think that. The supporting cast of her fellow prisoners though are fascinating. Everyone gets multiple layers, and many twists in their complicated backstories which led them to this place. Seeing how one stupid mistake that a teenager makes results in years of awfulness, which often beget even more years of awfulness, makes you grateful for the unpunished mistakes of your youth. The show really drives home how close you could be to falling into this world of prison, so much so that while binge-watching over a week, I continually had to remind myself I don't actually live in a women's prison. It will make you grateful for your bathroom door, your freedom to walk to the grocery store, the grocery store itself, and a million other things. All while making you laugh a lot, and cry a few times.

I LOVED this show up until the very last twenty minutes of the last episode of the season (really, let's just say last episode because I'm not really sure where they can go from here. Maximum Security?). That's when the one character who has been portrayed as all bad, pure dark with no light, stays that way. I assumed there was a build up to the big reveal where we finally got to see the one, tiny good thing about her. But no. She was just a one-note bible-thumping hick whose ignorance was only outshone by her ability to command a small, similarly one-noted, thumping crowd.

All that amazing character development that went into each and every one of the cast was denied to Tiffany Doggett (played by Taryn Manning, a scary-good actress), who instead was a two-dimensional stereotype of a meth head backwoods addict turned opportunistic Christian. It was the portrayal of her faith that I found really unfairly handled: if every other character got to have a good side and a bad side, why was she 1000% despicable? There was at least an ounce of compassion in the writing of every other character but hers. There aren't that many stereotypes we are able to so publicly mock in television anymore and claim political correctness, but Christians are one of them. And I say this as a person who has a very complicated history with her own faith, and especially with the related institutions.

I think ultimately I felt a little betrayed that the extreme smarts of the writing fell so short there. Well, that, and I thought the ending was just super, freaking bleak. I didn't expect her to become an awesome person I'd want to have coffee with, but I also wasn't expecting every system--hers, the prison's, Tiffany the two-dimensional--to up and fail so miserably.

I've been trying to talk friends into watching it, just so I have someone to compare notes with. If I had it to watch over again, I'd just watch the first 12 episodes, and skip the last. But then of course, I'd always wonder...and that wondering would eat away at me...and so I'd probably get sucked into it's vortex anyway. Much like I probably will with Season 2.

What did you think? Loved? Hated? Who was your least or favorite character? Is orange the new black?

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