Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Orange is the new Black

So let’s start with Happy New *YOU* everyone, let's not dwell on another year passing by as I'm sure we’d all be much happier if we had no clocks or calendars. I say this having received no less than six calendars for Christmas after purchasing my first ipad and downloading various apps I will never use that are ‘date’ related.  However, this nifty little device means I can write miserable poetry wherever I am, I can facepalm people, iMessage and introduce myself to cutting edge drama via Netflix while I escape all these new ways I can be contacted.

No I'm not getting paid to say this, actually there’s a lot of crap on Netflix too, but Orange is the new Black won the cutting edge for me after sitting through two episodes of Breaking Bad. I'm sure Walter’s story is brilliant but I’m never going to identify/give a jot about a middle aged chemistry teacher’s descent into drug things because there's already too many middle aged men stories being told on TV. That’s how much I paid attention, the glaze was broken by a slight interest in what a body that’s been disintegrated by acid in a bath looks like (basically looks like what my cats leave after devouring a mouse… but I now know that a bath isn't’t a practical place to melt a body). I may re-visit it if I have around 78 hours of spare time soon.

What grabs me about Orange is the new Black? Women. Loads of them, all different sorts, all interesting and not one manic pixie dream girl to be seen anywhere. The set is very grim being a prison, the costumes are very prison uniform, and the sex is very sex-like, being sex in prison. Which means there’s nothing other than the writing and the characters to keep you hooked and ‘hooray’ I'm pretty sure it wasn’t shot through a male lens, which is something hard to find when it comes to anything with lesbians or women fighting in captivity in, or actually most film/drama made ever. The only moment you feel you may have walked in on a porn set is when you see prison guard’s Mendez moustache for the first time. As for the men, well there are a few, vaguely interesting, feisty, endearing, pushing the plot through, predictable, let’s call them manic pixie dream boys, little companions for the important female characters.

So what’s it about? Very simply, a privileged white woman goes to prison for smuggling a suitcase of drug money ten years after a relationship with a female drug baron. This being an isolated incident of serious rebellion on Piper Chapman’s side, she’s not your average convict, in current day, she’s an upper middle class New Yorker with a writer fiancé, in prison she is doing little campaigns, trying to save the day, constantly messing up, and finally telling her writer fiancé far too much about life inside that finally shoots her in the foot.  And it’s all based the true story of Piper Kerman. 

The dark comedy makes biting social comment about women’s identities in relation to age, sexuality, gender, class, race, privilege and if you’re a reader of lefty mainstream press, have ever sipped a cuppa listening to Woman’s Hour or dipped your toe in the raging renewed feminist movement, you will have heard/read the term ‘intersectional’; Orange is the new Black is like a workshop on what that means, how Jenji Kohan managed to fit it all in is impressive alone. The politics of it sit quite easily along side some lols, revealing the dynamics, prejudices, dog eat dog hierarchies in a female environment, all eyes being opened.

The stories of the women’s lives before prison are showed as individual flashbacks which I think works well, very subtle shots of life outside the walls, all very different circumstances, sometimes poverty, abuse, rebellion, despair, moral justice, inescapable, all of which (so far) have not been mindless crimes. However as this season ends, it feels you've only just scratched the surface.

Characters like Sophia, a trans woman turned in by her own son and mostly treated with more respect inside prison than outside has more to tell.  Tastee, briefly out then so fundamentally institutionalised, returns with a bang. You can’t help but wonder about the faked suicide/drug overdose and whether it is found out (though no spoilers, that character was cremated before you could even sing along to the credits).  I want to know more about Big Boo, and of course, the prison baby storyline has a way to go. And then there was the finale that left no doubt there was more to tell.

There is no need to discuss whether this is an accurate depiction of prison in America, the message is carried within the individual stories which in the words of Regina Spektor who sings the theme, ‘remember all their faces, remember all their voices’. (The words are great and fit perfectly, the track however gives me a mid 90s indie hangover).

Go on and have a look at it before Season 2 is available. It starts well, dips a bit in the middle that really takes off from about episode 9 which when there’s 13 episodes gives it plenty of time to do this.

Jump on the trailer below…

For full cast : IMDb

Disclaimer: for my mum. The Pre-Raphaelite calendar is gorgeous and has been written on twice already. x

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