Netflix has released its second season of the original series Orange Is the New Black, and a great hype has quite rightly followed. This prison dramedy may well be the most important television show not actually on television, being well-written, well-acted and well-scripted.
What makes this show most interesting is that its cast is not only dominated by women, but by women of such varying backgrounds. In the lead role is WASP-y Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), though if she disappears for whole episodes at a time, the outstanding supporting cast come to the fore. A supporting cast, that thanks to the great leveller that is prison, is made up of voices taken from across the spectrums of race, class and sexuality.
Each of the show’s episodes include a series of flashbacks to the life of a particular inmate prior to their incarceration. It’s a technique that could become repetitive, were it not for the fact that each character’s backstory is wonderfully individual and creative. There is no reliance on lazy stereotyping to create personality. Not only does this show that crime does not exist in a vacuum, but that more often than not there are deeper societal issues to blame
Orange Is the New Black plays with many of the conventions we see in prison dramas; turf wars, initiations, “prison wives”; and makes them its own. The show is a prison drama in drag. Conventionally, society perhaps perceives its criminals as something less than human, and the prison institution exists to convince inmates of this too, depriving them of contact, love and freedom. The women of Lichfield find humanity where they can through small rituals, unlikely friendships and the inventive use of maxi-pads. It is these little moments that remind both the inmates and the viewer that, although these women may have crimes to pay for, they are human. In turn, the show seems to possess a distinctive charm, and a perfectly struck balance between comedy and drama is permitted.
Tune in not only to see a strong female cast, but a cast of women from minority backgrounds that are given a chance to shine. Orange Is the New Black may have started life as a dandelion, but now it is standing on its own two feet.