Orange is the New Black, Season 1

Late to the party! Title of my memoir. Anyway.

The primary reason I wanted to post about the first season of this show, which is in that sweet old-but-not-that-old news spot in popular culture, is because it was built up so, so much. If you’re familiar with how I watch television — and if you are, that’s a little weird, I guess — you know that I tend to watch shows like this a few years after they come out. Cases in point: Game of Thrones, Veep, most other HBO stuff because I don’t want to pay $14.99/month yet. I waited on OITNB because the hype bugged me, and because I wasn’t sure I was that interested in the setting or the cast. The last time I tried to watch an all-female cast of something, I could hardly stand the bitchy drama. Maybe that’s anti-my-own-gender, but it’s true. I like a balance. Dudes are funny, too. (What a revelation.) As is the case with most popular television, I hate being told I’ll like something by everyone I meet.

Let me finish the thought started in the first sentence of that previous paragraph, though. It was so, so built up — and I loved it! I couldn’t wait to start the next episode. I was instantly drawn in, both by the good actors (Laverne Cox, Uzo Aduba, Dascha Polanco, Samira Wiley, Yael Stone, Taryn Manning, Natasha Lyonne, Danielle Brooks) and the mediocre (Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon), to a world around which I have no frame of reference. Like The Sopranos — a better show, to clarify — I was willing to forgive inconsistencies and mistakes because, for the most part, I wouldn’t know how to catch them anyway. I’m thankful I know nothing about being in a women’s prison, but I sure am curious about it, no matter how true-to-life the story is.

I’m probably not alone in saying that Schilling and Prepon’s acting is mediocre, but I don’t think either of them are bad actors. I like both of their characters, and by virtue of my own background, they’re the two I relate to the most, I guess. Or, I should say, Piper (Schilling) is the one I relate to, not Alex (Prepon), because she’s white and fairly sheltered and relatively happy. Before being in prison, she didn’t know prison. Her experience is completely fascinating, and I understand the actions she takes under the circumstances she’s in. I just think the relationship between Piper and Alex is… cold. Their history feels fake because their chemistry is nonexistent. That’s all.

See, though, the forgiveness comes in because every other actor is incredible. Manning, whom I hadn’t seen in anything in awhile, is so terrifying (as is her makeup) as Pennsatucky, Stone and Polanco are so genuinely sweet as Lorna and Daya, and the energy that Wiley as Poussey and Brooks as Taystee command is absolutely mesmerizing. They’re all so incredibly complex, and they beg you to hear their stories. Bit by bit, we get to hear them, and it’s such a treat. If these were all real women — and perhaps they are, though I haven’t read the memoir on which the show is based — I’d be truly honored to meet any of them. Cox, Aduba and Lyonne are in a league of their own, though, I think. Their portrayals of Sophia, Crazy Eyes and Nicky come from especially deep, dark places.

Oh, and there are dudes on this show. Thank goodness. Matt McGorry, as Officer Bennett, is as innocent as a guy can be when he’s had sex with an inmate. Nicky Sobotka, er, Pablo Schreiber is devilish as Officer Pornstache/Mendez, even if he’s a sick fuck. I honestly can’t hate him because I love the actor too much. Healy (Michael Harney) could have been written either terribly or wonderfully, it’s hard to say. His layers are bountiful. I hope I figure him out more next season, because otherwise I’ll consider him a weak link. In any case, all three provide a level of smarminess that demonstrate just how screwed up the prison system is.

And then there’s Jason Biggs. I absolutely love his performance in this show. His Larry Bloom might even be my favorite character, because he is so whole and honest, and yet so completely benevolent. He’s done nothing wrong (yet?) except for letting himself be destroyed by his own noble intentions. It’s heartbreaking to watch.

What’s also heartbreaking is realizing how stark prison life can be, and how beaten down inmates can get after awhile. The portrayals of solitary confinement, of hazing, of weapon threats, of religious fervency, are all heightened microcosms of the real world. And yet I can’t help but think that the methodology implemented in prison might actually benefit real society. Many of the characters on OITNB, like Nicky and Taystee and Poussey, are so open about their feelings that the pace of the show is noticeably swifter. They’ve cut out that unfortunately-female tendency to stew and passive-aggress (though the show is not devoid of it entirely), and the result is so refreshing.

I can’t wait for Season 2. I don’t even know what I’m waiting for, really.

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