Orange is the New Black: Review

So I know that most of you are still eagerly awaiting my book reviews, checking in every day to see whether they have been  updated, and muttering angrily to yourselves when you have seen that yet again, I have sucked at posting regularly.

Most, some, none- all interchangeable words.

   But as I am slowly working though the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge, and as my number of draft book review posts  grows like a teenager during puberty, I also had time to get Netflix! (Only an age after the rest of society, I know). The main reason I got it was so I could watch Alfred Hitchcock movies without waiting for 2 years for it to buffer, or to waste £15 in HMV only to discover that they weren’t my cup of tea. And therefore, predictably, Netflix don’t have any Hitchcock movies. Which I really should have seen coming if you take a quick glance through out my life. However, I did finally get a chance to start watching Orange is the New Black (again, waaaay behind everyone else in western society).

It is amazing.

   It is a remarkably engrossing series, filled with the full range of human emotion and experiences from different races, economical class, sexual orientations and every point of view in between. The entire cast is extraordinarily talented, with the believable thoughts and actions expressed through facial expressions and movements as well as the script, and the plots for each episode being both fulfilling for the hour, and a good pace. The writing allows the possibility of the natural intertwining of experiences, beliefs and stories, as you tend to see in everyday life.

   From a psychological viewpoint, the characters of Sophia Burset, played by Laverne Cox, ‘Crazy eyes’ Warren, played by Uzo Aduba, ‘Taystee’ Jefferson, played by Danielle Brooks, and Nicky Nichols, played by Natasha Lyonne, are of particular interest.

 tumblr_n5hdwjM4VL1r3fv6wo4_250.gifSophia Burset is the only transgender character in the series, and with her storyline we get to explore the lengths a person would go in order to be seen by others in line with the way you feel, as well the extent you can demand your loved ones to change of you and what you have to sacrifice in order to do so. Sophia’s story lines major theme however, is acceptance. The acceptance of her wife and son, the acceptance of their needs and their motives and well as their acceptance of her new life. The major friendships she makes throughout the two current seasons also highlights the need to accept and be accepted for who people truly are, with both their flaws and convictions. It was really refreshing to see such a liberal and honest representation of someone who is transgender. True the character herself went from a burly fireman to a fiercely fabulous hairdresser, which initially seemed a little stereotypical, but after delving into the characters story, it did seem honest to who she was on the inside. And I guess some stereotypes must be true, otherwise they would cease to be seen as stereotypical.

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 16.08.34.png   Taystee Jefferson is a loud, fun and intelligent inmate who was initially there, it seemed, for a bit of comic relief. However, as the series progressed, we see how much of her life was affected by being played by her adoptive mother and forced to see no alternative to life then staying in the drugs game. The main reason she is so psychologically interesting as a character is her admission to her fear of a ‘free’ life. Taystee had been in institutions her entire life and with surprising candour and self awareness, proclaims that she is institutionalised- a person who does not know how to function in a world away from set rules and regulations. It is often seen in people who have been in the forces for a pro-longed period of time, especially if they begin at a young age. Orange is the New Black demonstrated the transition from being ‘free’ to ‘prison’ and the psychological effects of such a transition in a freshly undramatic, honest way. Similar to how ‘The Bird who Flew the Cuckoo Nest’ is now seen as the mainstream, if slightly dramatic, example of institutionalisation, Orange is the New Black is the quieter messenger of the same tale.

  Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 16.09.35 Nicky Nichols is one of the most seen characters in the series, in the role of confidante, agony aunt and overall friend to many. However, she is not without flaws, a heroin addict who is afraid of abandonment by the prisons mother head ‘Red’. We see her struggle to maintain her two years of sobriety and her vulnerability to Red when she messes up. Thankfully Orange is the New Black outlines drug addicts, not as the bad guys, but as the victims, highlighting instead that addiction is a serious issue exploited by drug dealers and judged by mainstream society, when in fact they are no different from us. We simply haven’t stepped the first step with a drug currently considered illegal. When someone is addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, sex, coffee etc, they are seen a ill. When someone is addicted to heroin, cocaine etc, they are considered as wrong, shameful or simply inferior.

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 16.10.25Lastly, ‘Crazy Eyes Warren’ is the most obviously clinically ill character, with flights of rage, ill-control, dramatic, catatonic-like actions with the ability to be persuaded by those she trusts that she has done a particular thing, or is a particular person. Although her actions are often seen as random, confusing or ill-filtered, we as an audience are not convinced that she is truly insane. The fact that she is in a minimum security prison and released from the psychiatric ward is one obvious indicator, but another is the fact that if you listen to what she says, or when you can see her thought patterns sequencing together, her responses appear rational, if a little over the top. As the only character to have returned from ‘Psych’, she is the only one with any clear signs of ill mental health, despite the fact that it was stated in one of the episodes that most of the women in the prison are on at least anti-depressants. Her character can seem slightly stereotypical, however due to the way she was written and the way Uzo Aduba portrays ‘Crazy Eyes’ however, you can’t help but believe in her story.

  Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 16.11.51 Orange is the New Black is a story focussing on Piper Chapman played by Taylor Schilling, is the ‘typical white girl’ whose privileged upbringing taught her that she was one of ‘us’, and criminals, lesbians etc, were part of ‘them’. Her determination to separate herself from her unhappy family and desire to feel special lands her in with a master drug distributer, and later, prison. By no means is Piper the only privileged white girl in the prison, however as she continues to try and navigate prison life, she slowly discovers who she is, away from Anthropologie soaps and cashmere jumpers. And more surprising, she begins to like the new, flawed her.

Orange is the New Black ultimately shows us all that the only difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is that ‘they’ got caught. A powerful and entertaining show and the perfect example of what we now want to see in modern television.

Rating: A-



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