Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

TV REVIEW: Orange Is The New Black

As Piper tries to navigate a life drastically different from the organic grocery buying, juice cleansing, fiance loving one that she was accustomed to, she must also deal with her new found enemies, friends, and ex-lesbian-lover that are all now incarcerated alongside her.

By: Jake Horowitz

Published: July 19th, 2013 in Culture » TV » Reviews

Though the Emmys aren’t exactly a perfect barometer of quality television (if they were, NBC’s Parenthood would be nominated), they can still single out some of TV’s best shows and let viewers know what’s worth watching. With the announcement of the Emmy nominations yesterday, newcomer to the original content world Netflix managed to score 14 nominations for the three shows they released this year; House of Cards, Hemlock Grove, and Arrested Development. And while this certainly is a huge step forward for Netflix, it also goes to show that some of the best TV isn’t even on TV anymore. It’s on your laptop, your iPad, your phone; and it’s taking risks that even the most well-respected cable networks won’t take. It’s releasing shows like Orange Is the New Black, and we should all be welcoming the change.

With Orange Is the New Black, Netflix’s fourth original show this year, viewers are treated to a show that is very clearly not your parent’s drama. It’s graphic, it’s crude, it’s funny, it’s dramatic, and it’s episodes have all been released at once. Starring Taylor Schilling, Jason Biggs, and Laura Prepon, Orange follows Schilling’s Piper Chapman as she begins her 15 month sentence in prison for a crime she committed 10 years ago. As she tries to navigate a life drastically different from the organic grocery buying, juice cleansing, fiancé loving one that she was accustomed to, Piper must also deal with her new found enemies, friends, and ex-lesbian-lover that are all now incarcerated alongside her.

Where Orange Is the New Black really shines is with its clever mix of comedy and drama, lightheartedness and deep despair. While we see Piper struggle in her horrible situation, she still manages to find things to enjoy and laugh about along the way. At least, until she laughs in the wrong direction and finds herself once again being threatened by another inmate. It’s this style of humor and drama that makes Orange the ultimate fish out of water show, while still bringing something unique and original to the table.

Also working in Orange‘s favor is the clever use of flashbacks in each episode. Rather than simply seeing how Piper lived her life before prison, we’re also treated to the back-story of all the inmates that surround Piper. From the angry Russian cook to the kind hairstylist transvestite, each character in Orange is interesting and well-crafted, and it’s exciting to see how they lived their lives before prison and what ultimately led them there. Though the whole formula plays out a bit like LOST, with each character getting some sort of origin story, the levity and break from the prison setting here makes each flashback worthwhile and integral to the overall tone of the show.

But while Netflix may be the future of great, Emmy award winning TV, Orange Is the New Black doesn’t exactly fit that bill. Yes, it’s got all the nudity, swearing, and irony that the Emmys seem to love, but it’s not exactly prestige television. What Orange is is entertaining. It’s a great first season of a television show that is so unlike any other, that you can’t help but watch every episode. It’s got great performances, great writing, and great directing, and creator Jenji Kohan (Weeds) adding her personal touch to every moment.

However, it’s not the kind of show that you’ll look smart for watching. It’s not Homeland or Mad Men or House of Cards. But, then again, who says it has to be? Who says TV has to be all doom and gloom and unlikable leads? It can still be fun, shocking, and interesting. It can still be entertainment for entertainment’s sake; while still maintaining themes and messages and good writing. It can still be a show that balances comedy and drama. It can still be like Orange Is the New Black.

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