Surrendering To “Orange”

by Amanda Duberman
It wouldn’t take long for the media to deplete prison metaphors related to Netflix’s latest offering, Orange Is the New Black. Yes, it will chain you to your preferred method of video streaming for at least a day. Your capacity for empathy will be solitarily confined to these characters for even longer. You will self-surrender to additional viewings and happily prepare for another 13-episode sentence. In short, Orange is an arresting delight. It confronts every layer of women’s experience in an environment designed for inertia — and gets many of them right.

The show is brought to us by Weeds creator Jenji Kohan and delivers on the motifs attendant to the ironic offender tale, but with considerably more depth and nuance this time around. Based on the memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman, the series’ lead protagonist is Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a staple in the Park Slope artisanal bath products business who lives with her minimally exceptional fiancĂ© Larry Bloom (an earnestly repellent Jason Biggs).

After a post-college lesbian dalliance with an international drug dealer named Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), whom she occasionally helps smuggle the product, Piper “becomes the nice blonde lady [she] was supposed to be,” until Vause gives her up and lands her in federal prison. Piper intends to spend the year in deep circumspection minding her own business, until she accidentally insults the Russian head cook ‘Red’ (Kate Mulgrew) on her first day, and a mission to starve her out makes clear she must participate in the multiple matrices of power and obedience in order to survive.

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