Netflix is rapidly becoming my favourite tool for watching TV shows and movies, and the UK doesn’t even have the amount available that the US has. The ability to stream in such good quality, both new and old content, for a very reasonable price has seen Netflix’s popularity skyrocket.
In fact, its been doing so well that they are now creating original content, namely Orange Is The New Black. The big difference with the Netflix only shows is that all the episodes of a season are being released at once, creating a new kind of viewing experience that can be tailored to how each viewer prefers to watch. Personally, I’ve been watching in two to three episode bundles.
The premise to this intriguing bit of television is a women’s prison where our main (lead-in) character, Piper Chapman, has just been taken, after turning herself in voluntarily. Depicted through both present time story lines, as well as flashbacks, it pieces together the lives of a group of women who find themselves committing crimes and serving time. It is a surprisingly humanising point of view. It’s easier to not think about criminals and their day to day lives, and while this show may not be the most accurate, it does raise questions about the prison experience as a whole.
I would highly recommend this comedy/drama series; though I feel it’s more drama than comedy.
What intrigued me about this show and the reason I wanted to write about it is because of its portrayal of gender, sexuality and sex in the present day. Assumption might suggest that a show about a women’s prison is going to show copious lesbian activities, tenderly porn-esque or brutal sexual assault, but this isn’t the focus of the show’s portrayal. The range of relationships is quite wonderful.
There is the archetypal “pimp” with her “boo”, who at first seems mean and possessive but is shown as caring and desperate. There are women who were homosexual before they went to prison and so are just making the most of their time, and of course there are the straight girls.
For some reason, the writers have decided not to use the word bisexual (once again) to describe Piper Chapman even though that’s what she is. Rather, she’s a straight girl who WAS a lesbian. Even she describes herself as though she’d been turned. Thankfully, she doesn’t say it was a phase…
Chapman, as she’s known, because all prisoners go by their surnames, is now in a monogamous relationship with a man (Jason Biggs) and has left her urges for the female flesh behind. Or so it seems until she’s faced with her ex-lover.
All of these relationships are dealt with in different ways which showcases how different homosexual/bisexual relationships can be, without pretending that stereotypes don’t exist.
As an exploration of sexuality, it is depicting a very modern and forward thinking people. Moreover, the way the writers and characters explore the transgender character in the prison is particularly interesting and moving. With flashbacks of his transformation to her, her relationship with her wife and son, we see the change in a normalising way, despite the unusual setting.
I have high hopes that the series will continue for a second season as there is so much more to explore, with great characters and because it’s written so well.
Also, for Star Trek fans, you may notice a particular Captain making an appearance.