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Orange is the New Black - Season One

by Louise Adams
Friday May 16, 2014
Orange is the New Black - Season One

Based on Piper Kerman's 2010 "Smith girl goes to prison" memoir, the first season of "Orange is the New Black" chronicles Piper Chapman's (immersed Taylor Schilling) navigation of her 15-month sentence in upstate New York's Litchfield prison.

She's more than just a white fish out of Park Slope waters; through flashbacks, Chapman is forced to deal with her frustrated fiancé Larry (Jason Biggs), the lesbian lover Alex (Laura Prepon) who drew her into international heroin smuggling then turned her in just before the statute of limitations ran out, and her own angry addiction to adventure.

The scripts ingeniously cycle from horror to hilarity as daily prison life (cock-shaped vegetables keep disappearing from the pantry) is interspersed with Chapman's outside connections to binge-watching "Mad Men," referencing Neil deGrasse Tyson and helplessly listening to Larry spill her stories to an Ira Glass doppelgänger. Under experienced direction from a roster including Jodie Foster, a CPAP machine is compared to Darth Vader and Afghani burqas to beekeeping gear, and a feuding mother and adult daughter are called "better birth control than Plan B."

Blu-ray special features included commentary on the first episode "I Wasn't Ready" and last of the thirteen-part season by producer Jenji Kohan and others, a gag reel, and four featurettes. Speaking with a tremendous, and tremendously diverse cast and creative team, "Prison Rules" (as opposed to prisoner rules) talks about the penal system juxtaposed with the unwritten code of incarcerated conduct.

An inmate character's observation about self-segregation among Caucasians, African-Americans, Latinas and "others" -- "It's not racist; it's tribal" -- becomes the title of another mini-documentary, which tells of research at Chino prison that revealed "men are out for themselves, but women are communal." Kerman added, "The things women have in common are much more important."

Series creator Jenji Kohan says, "I’m proud to turn on the TV and see one hundred different women of every age and color and race. I have not seen that before."

"Mother Hen: Red Runs the Coup" focuses on veteran actor Kate Mulgrew and her Russian character, a matriarch who ruthlessly rules the joint from her post as kitchen supervisor, based on a real woman from Kerman's experience. "You only get two strikes," Red says. "Russia doesn't have baseball."

Kerman is the main interviewee in "New Kid on the Cell Block," and is appreciative that her narrative illuminates the intentionally hidden world of drugs, mental illness and abuse in the U.S. prison system. An actor notes the dehumanizing impact on inmates because "the lights are never fully turned off, and all the hard surfaces create a constant cacophony of noise."

Chapman is surrounded by protagonists who, over the course of this season, provide glimpses into how each ended up in jumpsuits. The series is an unprecedented showcase of women's stories told by a diverse and supremely talent cast. Jenji says, "I'm proud to turn on the TV and see one hundred different women of every age and color and race. I have not seen that before."

"To be able to tell all their stories is a privilege."

"Orange is the New Black: Season One"
Blu-ray three-disc set

Louise Adams is a Chicago freelance writer at www.treefalls.com (and a nom de guerre).


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