Orange Is the New Black.
It's been a weekend of escapism. Not only does my little apartment feel increasingly like a prison, but my mind is also playing some nasty tricks on me, making company simultaneously undesirable and yearned-for, thus completely ill-advised. So in my self-imposed solitary confinement I turned to the three things that have always been there for me: gin, my cat, and Netflix.
Now Netflix's previous attempts at television were, to me, rather lame. It was a secret to no-one that the company's well-oiled machine of statistics collection and determining what audiences prefer was fully cranked up to make a perfectly packaged product with all the same flavors that we've been chewing on since television was invented, rendering them as bland as prison food. The latest attempt, however, was helmed by the genius that is Jenji Kohan and touted a supporting cast that included Jason Biggs and the great Kate Mulgrew. Round it out with another opening theme by Regina Spektor and they had this geek eating out of that well-oiled machine's rusty hands.
The show is definitely reminiscent of "Weeds" and likely not by accident, but Kohan's perfect blend of comedy and drama works well for the story, and the cheap-cliff-hanger-at-the-end-of-every-episode device (there has to be a name for that) a la Dan Brown makes me feel like an insatiable drama whore. Yes, I watched all thirteen episodes in a roughly 48-hour period. Probably safe to say that I liked it.
While many of the story elements are fairly predictable, particularly surrounding the relationship between our protagonist, Piper (Taylor Schilling), and her fiancée Larry (Biggs), the results are no less gratifying. The characters are for the most part realistic even when aided by racial or cultural cliché, but the show doesn't get bogged down in racism either. Instead it tackles some of today's hotly debated topics with a light touch, from many issues along the queer spectrum to shady government to religion. The villains are who you'd expect and sometimes over the top, but not so much that you can't picture them as human, and in fact the show goes out of its way to remind you of how human each of the characters are. There's an interview by Sir Ian McKellan that I love to reference in which he says (paraphrasing) that straight people should be so lucky to be forced to look in the mirror and come to terms with who they are; and in this show they rather deftly force the characters to do the same, reflecting on how they came to be where they are and what they are reduced to when stripped of their freedom. It's a fascinating struggle of self-discovery on a level you don't often see in television.
And of course it's always important to pay attention to literary references, none seemingly so important in this show as Frost's "The Road Less Taken", with which Piper shows off her literary skills and offers the interpretation that: "everyone wants to look back and think that their choices matter, but in reality shit just happens the way that it happens and it does not mean anything." Most quick interpretations cling to that titular line as a reason to go one's own way and forget that the narrator calls the roads "really about the same". "Orange" effectively strips our protagonist of her self-deception that one road could have made all the difference and forces her to look at herself as a flawed human being.
So Netflix finally seems to have found it's footing in the world of entertainment production with "Orange", and I'm definitely looking forward to the second season, but right now I'm feeling the urge to go for a run.