This will be a feature in which I count down my top 10 TV shows of all time and talk about the reasons why they’re in the list and what I love about them.
‘Orange is the New Black’ is a Netflix original TV series that was debuted on the streaming service in 2013 and released its 3rd season on June 11th 2015. It was created by ‘Weeds’ creator Jenji Kohan, and is based off a book about a woman called Piper Kerman, and her experiences in a woman’s prison. It stars Taylor Schilling as Piper and has been commissioned for a 4th season to be released in 2016.
We are living in a golden age of television and there is no denying that. Even if you don’t appreciate the sheer volume of brilliant and original content out there, then it must at least be clear to see that we are living in a time where TV is outpacing film as the greatest provider of original and groundbreaking content. Not only that, but with online streaming, giving shows a new platform to drop content onto faster and without restrictions, services Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu are proving that whilst films are doing so little original, its the new kid on the block that’s giving out all the best candy.
‘Orange is the New Black’ is a part of this new golden hued world, where shows can be rescued from premature cancellation and us lot can binge watch to our hearts content. It’s both wonderful and surprising, then, that I’ve put thia show on my top 10 list after only 3 seasons. Am I being presumptuous? Do 3 seasons justify a place alongside shows that I’ve fallen in love with over a longer period of time. Well, maybe, but that’s what happens when you watch shows that are still running. You ask yourself if you can trust it to continue being the show you love, or will it see a steady decline in quality leading to its untimely and welcome end.
This is also the reason why I’m a little trepidacious including ‘The Walking Dead’ in my favourites list and exactly why I didn’t do a top 10. I do love The Walking Dead yet it’s had some low points, mainly around season 3, and even though it’s better than it’s ever been right now, It’s a show that could change at the drop of a hat and I’m not sure it couldn’t ever be that bad again.
So, then, it’s a testament to ‘OITNB’ that I chose to include it at No. 7 after it’s 3rd season, which, in my opinion was absolutely fantastic. This could change, of course, give it a season or two and my opinion might change, but right here and now, with the love I felt for the season still fresh in my heart, I thought I’d go for it and include it in the list.
When I first saw ‘OITNB’ it was as simple as watching the pilot for any show, I heard it was good, so I checked it out, but, this was different. Within a few minutes I was hooked, I immediately sympathised with the character of ‘Piper Chapman’ as she spent one final night with her boyfriend before going to prison. I cared, and it made me tear up, within the awkward first encounter, that is the first 15 minutes of a new show before you settle into its style, I actually teared up.
From then on my love for the show grew, as I got to know the wonderful and diverse characters of Litchfield Penitentiary, I discovered a show that on the outside was a wild, raunchy, comedy/drama about a group of women in prison. Yet, as the show developed, what we, as the audience, discovered was that this was an achingly human story about people who had made bad choices, and did the best they could in awful situations.
With depth and subtlty ‘OITNB’ told a whole host of different stories, using ‘Lost’ style flashbacks, to give the characters dimensions, making even once minor players, into rounded and well defined people. It was said of ‘Piper’, that she is the entry character, someone who the audience could cling onto as the main character, until the wider array of people could be discovered as each season progressed. This gave the show its greatest asset, its diversity.
In a better world, diversity in Television shouldn’t even be noteworthy, but for a male dominated arena, ‘OITNB’ is a show that lives and breathes its diversity, in sexuality, colour and gender, it has created characters that are so often neglected on network TV, this is how all shows should be. It doesn’t pander to anyone, it only aims to to give you an honest view of the world, that can be, at times, funny but heartbreaking.
Take this specific scene from the first episode of Season 3, as we see the end of the prisons Mothers Day, in which a number of quietly heartbreaking moments happen. After a child goes missing, the guards set off the alarm, making every inmate drop to the floor. As their kids stand around them wondering what they’re doing and why they can’t get up, one girl panics and also drops to the floor letting go of her balloon.
Another, more spoilery, moment involves Marias husband saying that she can’t see her baby anymore, not wanting her to think her mother in prison is normal. It’s a moment of genuine goosebump inducing sadness as she screams in anguish as she witnesses him walk off with her child.
The beautiful ‘Hummingbird by Miss E’ begins playing as we get shots of the inmates taking down banners and picking up rubbish. We cut to Poussey Washington an immate who, unlike other characters, had a great relationship with her mother. She finds amongst the rubbish a discarded newspaper with a comic strip that we saw her mother reading to her in a flashback. She wears an expression of sadness but then we see a hint of a smile, one that’s more familiar then genuine.
This is a beautifully played scene that strengthened my love of the show and helped in my decision to put it on my favourites list. It’s also the epitome of what I love about the show as a whole. The blend of music, pathos and performance is exactly to my liking and demonstrates the ability ‘OITNB’ has to dispense with the funny moments and the zany scenes and give you something real and heart-rending.
A show set in a prison doesn’t seem like the funniest situation in the world, yet the humour is specifically derived from the characters, who all have quirks and personalities that are played too, not laughed at. The show is reflective of these people, on the surface they may appear to be strange or aggressive, but hide sadness or secrets beneath the exterior.
Alongside the characters, many different stories are told that introduce us to things we’re perhaps not knowledgeable or even comfortable with. Hard hitting subjects and issues of importance are discussed and played out, such as prejudice towards the LGBT community as well as the consequences of drug abuse, among many other subjects. It’s all approached with a deft touch and handled expertly, the actors are very talented and give fantastic performances that access the heart and the humour of each subject and situation.
Its a cast of mostly unknowns, but with a few recognisable faces, such as Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager) and Laura Prepon (Donna Pinciotti from That 70’s show), who flesh out the world of the prison. The most successful aspect of OITNB is in its character development, which has managed to turn horrible characters into rounded and frankly loveable people.
Pennsatucky, for example, used to be a religious zealot who was constantly spouting verse about God and was a thoroughly unlikable character. Yet, by the end of season 3 she had developed a friendship with a character who was her polar opposite. She became a loveable character who we felt huge sympathy over during huge hardship she had to face in that season.
This is the enduring appeal of Orange is the New Black, its gentle comedy, its diversity of character and its heart. For me, season 3 was such a triumph because it had more heart than ever and made me care about more characters than I had previously, and even disliked some I hadn’t before. It reduces stigma about mental illness and treats everyone on the same terms. Back in Season 1, Suzanne was commonly referred to as ‘Crazy Eyes’ and treated like a joke character, even though she clearly suffered from mental difficulties. Over time she became someone who we felt strongly about and is now called Suzanne only.
She has my favourite moment of Season 2, and this is a spoiler, so skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know. At the end of season 2 Vee, the seasons ‘villain’ is missing presumed dead. She spent her time coercing many people to follow her, including Suzanne, and caused chaos and fighting amongst friends as well attempting to murder. She turned Suzanne into her lap dog, but still treated her like a person. When Vee disappeared, as everyone pretty much celebrated, Suzanne is seen crying on her bunk, having lost the only loving figure she had in the prison.
It’s the way in which the show completely humanises and makes you care for the characters you thought you wouldn’t, by intricately showing you the prejudices associated with them, and removing that barrier piece by piece. Even though Suzanne still has problems, we have learnt to see them as secondary to the their actual personality and no longer think of that when we think about the character.
There is a genuine sense of consequence in the series, if a character does something bad then its likely we wont see them again for a while or at all. I like that about it, there’s genuine stakes, and all the while it feels like its taking its time in telling these stories. As its fantastic title sequence says, they’ve got time and this is utilised intricately by showing their lives in a short space of time.
I really love this show, it’s quickly become one of my favourites and I hope it can continue in producing one fantastic season after another, so I can binge watch all the episodes in a sitting. There’s a rawness and an honesty that it has, that some dramas can’t capture, and this is easily the most human I’ve seen in a while.
If you’ve read this far, thank you, leave a comment on here or on the social network you discovered it saying what you liked or didn’t like. It would be much appreciated. In the coming days and weeks I intend to carry on with the countdown, hopefully making them better as I go along. I find it difficult doing long articles like this because I want to write a lot, but find it hard to write, a lot. I try to cram in too much but don’t want to write too little and not explain myself well. Anyway, we’ll see how it goes. Thanks for reading this again. I hope you continue to read the next posts I write about my top 7 favourite shows. 🙂