Maybe you’ve been in a coma for the last two weeks? Or incarcerated? These are the only excuses I can imagine for not having heard about the new Netflix show Orange is the New Black, based on the by-all-accounts-terrible memoir of the same name (okay, some people like it but I’m still not reading it). This show though is the OPPOSITE of terrible. In fact, out of the five original shows that Netflix has put up so far (and I am including House of Cards but not Arrested Development in this sweeping statement), Orange is the New Black may be the best. My advice to you: leave work now. Go home. Get out your computer, put on your jammies and start watching. Here’s why:
1. Not a single one of the characters is a cliché or a simple amalgamation of stereotypes.
This is true for everyone from the most vile prison guard to the sweetest inmate. Just when you think, “Oh yeah, this dude with the mustache, I get it, he’s evil,” he does something that spins you around. The same with the yoga lady, the fundamentalist Christian, the transgender hair stylist, the mother and daughter who hate each other, the inmate known as “Crazy Eyes.” And these aren’t even the main characters.
2. The transgender hair stylist is actually played by a transgender person.
According to The Daily Beast, this is the first time this has happened ever in the history of television (so I guess Netflix is officially television now?). Laverne Cox plays the character of Sophia Burset, who used to be a male firefighter, with understanding but no sentimentality. As with all the characters, there isn’t a clear-cut good guy and bad guy in her story. Somehow you feel sympathy for Sophia and her struggle while simultaneously feeling sorrow for her former wife and son. It’s pretty epic and once again not even the main story.
3. I’ve never been to prison but I have a feeling this is a pretty accurate portrayal of the place that walks the line between funny and tragic without ever becoming exploitative or ultra-violent.
Prison sucks. Ever since I watched Oz for the first time, long ago, I knew I did not want to go to there. But I also realize, and I think this show does a really good job at pointing this out, that in America the justice system isn’t always completely “fair” and sometimes people who don’t “deserve” it (these quotes are just because who can say what is fair and who can say if anyone ever deserves a cage?) end up in a place that is scary, run by arbitrary rules and full of terrible food. So basically middle school. This is why I learned yoga, just in case I make the wrong move some day. I sure wish I had learned it before sixth grade. Anyway, I respect the creators/directors/actors of this show for making this seem real while also allowing us to see the humanity of a place like women’s prison and the camaraderie, cliques and emotional manipulation that springs up between women in close corridors. Like I said: middle school.
4. Another thing that isn’t exploited? Lesbian relationships.
I don’t know if I have ever seen a show (and I am including The L Word) that shows lesbian relationships, as well as heterosexual relationships, in such an honest and open way. Okay, yes, I am not a lesbian. But I am a woman, so I guess what I am saying is I haven’t seen a show that so honestly and openly talks about female sexuality. Also: I know a LOT of lesbians and if Facebook is any indication, this is their favorite show of the year. And the Advocate says it’s good.
5. All that said: it’s just a really entertaining show.
Gender politics and character development aside, this is just a really fun show to watch. It looks good, makes you laugh and lets you feel feelings. By the time it ends, you will be standing on your couch chanting: “More! More! More!”
And guess what you lucky duck! It looks like we are all getting a Season Two.
Editor’s note: This story originally stated that Netflix has produced three original series. The correct number is five.