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Orange is the New Black’ Bingeworth

Juan Ramon Cancio Vela | Wednesday, September 4, 2013

In early 2013, Netflix released “House of Cards”, a must watch for political drama enthusiasts. This marked the beginning of a new Netflix phenomenon; the internet service has expanded its arsenal of weapons, and has decidedly shown that they are not only a material hosting website but they can also produce their own great “television” series.
I consider it television because although it doesn’t actually air on television, calling these “web series” doesn’t do justice to the rich content or acting that goes into this quality product.
Coming on the heels of said recent success, Netflix released “Orange Is the New Black” this summer. If you haven’t seen it yet, this series is definitely worth watching. It has a different comedic grace and human element that “House of Cards” was somewhat lacking, but it still manages to deliver the same great dramatic energy.
The series comes from Jenji Kohan, who previously created the critically acclaimed “Weeds.” This first season of “Orange Is the New Black” clearly showcases Jenji’s ability to create complicated anti-hero characters that we can’t help but love.
The plot follows Piper Chapman, a woman who recently convicted of aiding and abetting a heroine smuggler involved in a large cartel operation.
She was your regular everyday 30-something who was about to get married, settle down, and start a family – that is, until one unfortunate mistake she made in her college years finally catches up with her.
After a slow starting first episode that documents the days and hours before her going to prison, the show immediately takes off. Piper is thrust into a world filled with seemingly simple female-centric drama that quickly veers its ugly head to show a nastier reality.
She quickly comes to realize the slight differences between prison and the real world; on the inside, insulting the wrong girl could end up in a fist fight, a stabbing attempt or any of a myriad of other more subtle tortures.
That is, of course, all while trying to avoid inadvertently inviting a corrections officer to feel the need to take advantage of their power over you. The dog-eat-dog world of the federal penitentiary system is a far cry from her once idyllic Manhattan life.
Piper is forced to adapt quickly to the ruthless and unapologetic prison scene, for her own wellbeing and that of her friends.
Without ruining any of the finer points of the drama, I will say that Piper effectively shows us what the waking nightmare of prison life will do to even the most stable and well-adjusted person.
Herein lies the true greatness of this show because it does not only focus solely on the main character and her struggles, it also delves deeper into the past decisions of many of the supporting characters and the reasons behind why they landed themselves a bunk in federal prison.
This peek into the backstories of the supporting characters allows us to see not only why these women are imprisoned, but also why they react to certain aspects of prison life in very particular and specific ways.
You grow to know these characters fairly well and in a sense love how human they feel, even if the context of their daily lives is completely alien to us.
Perhaps the true beauty of this story’s context is that you get to see that in the end we are all human, we can all make mistakes; however, the more important point is that what we chose to do after we have made mistakes is what defines our character.
I highly recommend this series for anyone looking to procrastinate or for anyone looking for their next quality Netflix binge.
Contact Juan Ramon Cancio Vela at
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.