Netflix has really nailed it with the new jailhouse drama/comedy Orange is the New Black. It’s fun, it’s scripted and paced well, and it features some fantastic acting. It’s a reverse-Cinderella story that just hammers home that Netflix’s biggest strength actually lies in original programming.
The show focuses on Piper Chapman, a haughty, well-to-do woman who ends up in federal prison for transporting a suitcase full of drug money for Alex Vause, an international heroin smuggler. She also happens to be her ex-girlfriend. Oh, and she’s locked up in the same prison.
The whole thing is actually based on a true story – Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name.
While the plot is engaging, this show is carried on the backs of its characters. There’s plenty of variety: ultra-christian meth-head who’s on her fifth abortion? Check. Scary Russian woman with ties to the mob? Check. Former track star who fell in with the wrong crowd? Yup, she’s there too.
Even the characters that seem like they’ll coast on one note don’t – flashback sequences peppered throughout the first season show that little of what you think you know about these women is the truth. The acting is top-notch – there isn’t a weak link in the female cast.
The same can’t be said about Jason Biggs, who stars as Chapman’s fiancée, Larry. Each time he’s on-screen, I found myself wishing he’d disappear. Truthfully, I hope he’s written out of the show in the recently announced second season.
Taylor Schilling, however, is great as Chapman and Laura Prepon has likely resuscitated her career as Alex Vause. Admit it, haven’t you always imagined what Donna from That 70s Show would look like as a drug dealing lesbian? Topher Grace is probably crying into his Spider-Man 3 script right now.
The show isn’t afraid to tackle heavy issues like suicide, rape and drug addiction. But it does so in a way that never seems too heavy. It’s a curious mix of black comedy and drama – always straddling those lines without severing the link to the other side.
And it’s good. Real good. First House of Cards, then Arrested Development, and now this – Netflix, you’re finally earning that eight bucks a month.
Binge-watchers beware – Orange is the New Black’s 13 episodes go quick enough for withdrawal to set in.
Get it? Withdrawal? It’s funny because, you know – meth.