Piper Chapman is sentenced to 15 months in a federal prison in Litchfield, New York, for transporting drug money for her ex-lover in Orange Is the New Black.
Played brilliantly by Taylor Schilling as a quiet, respectful and well-educated woman, she is thrust into a world where these traits mean little – or do they? – and has to leave behind her friends and fiancé (an endearingly lost and loyal Jason Biggs) to face the consequences of her past mistakes.
Very quickly, the strengths of Netflix’s original show become apparent: the dialogue is sharp and the characters are fully-fledged and always interesting. Playing on this, Orange Is the New Black follows one story per episode, as well as Piper’s.
There’s Russian mob cook Red (a tough love mother figure if ever there was one), transgender woman Sophia (intelligent, but struggling without her family) or Pennsatucky (a drug-addict preacher whom Piper offends more than once) – and so many, many more.
The range and precision of each person is exactly what differs Orange from Weeds (creator Jenji Kohan’s previous project); though equally wity and diverse, this time around the central character is not the only aspect of the story given attention. In between navigating the politics of prisoners and avoiding her lesbian ex – not to mention her stalker, Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba) – Piper must also find a way to keep her relationship with whiter-than-white Larry, while they struggle to understand each others’ daily lives.
The wonder of Orange can also be measured in its lack of genre. As everyone’s current addiction Breaking Bad shows, confining to a certain brand of anything is restrictive. Orange follows suit and matches the heartbreak with the surreal, the outrage with the suspenseful and the comedy with warmth – all of which can be witnessed in a mythical chicken that pops up mid-season. Awash with wit and pop culture references, the social issues and endearing story arcs demonstrate why more Netflix viewers are watching Orange than the other Netflix originals (House of Cards and Arrested Development).
Opening with silly quirks, Orange Is the New Black drip-feeds the horror and struggle of prison life until suddenly you’re watching the stunning finale on the edge of your seat and desperately asking when a second series is going to arrive. It is, quite simply, excellent television.