“Who wants to watch a show about women in prison? Isn’t it a bit too risqué?” — pretty much the questions asked by those who have not seen the show. Is it risqué? Sometimes. Is it about women in prison? Mostly, but it is so much more.
Created by Jenji Kohan (“Weeds”) and produced exclusively for Netflix, “Orange is the New Black” has been a hit with viewers since 2013. The show itself is less about prison/lesbianism and more about character development that shows the humanity of the individuals highlighting the choices and circumstances that have brought them to Litchfield Federal Penitentiary.
Piper (Taylor Schilling) starts the series off as a privileged white woman caught selling drugs and must now find a way to accept her new life. But the rails come off the track when she comes across her former lover, Alex (Laura Prepon of “That 70’s show”) in the same prison with her.
From there we are introduced to a plethora of wildly diverse (and sometimes stereotyped) women and the staff members who maintain Litchfield. Throughout the seasons, each character gets a highlight with flashbacks to help define her humanity. Before you get used to the idea of a sympathetic cast, you get a glimpse into just why they are in prison to begin with and it can be quite dangerous.
The cast is quite the assortment of well-known actors and not-so-well-known character actors. The Russian cook Red (played by Kate Mulgrew of “Star Trek: Voyager”) is the initial group matriarch. Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” (Uzo Aduba) is a bit socially inept with a tendency toward being mentally challenged. Tasha “Taystee” (Danielle Brooks) is the local protester demanding human rights. Tiffany “Pennsatucky” (Taryn Manning) is the group’s resident redneck and addict.
The cast list is too long for an in-depth look in this short article, but it’s worth noting that the time taken to develop the characters is what has earned the show critical acclaim. Some might call it a soap opera and they wouldn’t be far off, but the societal issues explored push the show well beyond its daytime predecessors.
For those longtime fans, the new sixth season may be a bit of a disappointment as the traditional flashback storytelling that advanced the storylines has been replaced with a more linear track. As the seasons progressed, more of the background characters became focal points, but several of them have been left behind this season for us to wonder what happened to them. While another season looks to be in the works, this feels like the final season, as many of the details created are tied up with few loose ends.
What becomes of these women and the staff are for you to find out. So, grab your popcorn and orange jumpsuit for the latest summer binge watch.
To reach Brian Fitz-Gerald e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.