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Orange is the New Black (season 01)

Josh Reviews Orange is the New Black Season One!

A few weeks ago, my wife convinced me that we needed to check out Netflix’s series (that was released over the summer) Orange is the New Black.  I am glad she did, because we tore through the series’ thirteen-episode first season in just a little over a week, and I am thrilled that work is already underway on a season two.

Created by Jenji Kohan, the series is based on Piper Kerman’s memoir Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison.  The set-up of the show is strongly based on Ms. Kerman’s memoir, though from what I have read of the book it seems like the show starts to go in some very different directions by the end of the first season.

The series begins on Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling)’s first day in prison.  Piper is a happy yuppie, engaged to be married to Larry (Jason Biggs), when she is arrested for smuggling drugs — a crime she committed a decade earlier.  She self-surrenders, and in the blink of an eye everything she knew of her life is changed, and she is in prison.  The series follows Piper’s attempts to navigate the completely unfamiliar and sometimes scary world of a women’s correctional facility, while also trying to hold on to what had been her “normal” life on the outside through her phone calls and visits from her fiancé and family.

More than anything, I love the tone of Orange is the New Black.  The show is a drama, and doesn’t shy away from dealing with some tough territory.  We see the many small (and occasionally large) humiliations that Chapman (all the inmates refer to one another by their last names, rather than their first) must undergo, and as we get to know many of the other inmates who she encounters, we learn about their stories — almost all of which are terribly sad.  But this isn’t Oz.  The show is, surprisingly, very seldom downbeat.  There is a lot of humor to be found in Orange is the New Black.  The show is goofy at times.  More than that, while I wouldn’t say that the stories on the show are life-affirming — one of the saddest aspects of the show is how utterly without hope so many of the inmates are, in comparison to Chapman, who feels like she is just passing through — but there is a joy to the show in the way it brings to life all of the incredibly unique women who Chapman encounters in prison.

Although the early going focuses on Chapman, the show quickly begins to flesh out many of the other women, and by the end of the thirteen episodes we … [continued]