Precious white woman from upper class background goes to prison and has to deal with scary poor people – that premise alone steered me away from watching Orange Is the New Black. But, after hearing so many good things about Netflix’s new original series, I decided to give it a chance.
I admit it got off to a rocky start. By herself, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) just isn’t a very interesting character and I couldn’t really sympathize with her plight. Chapman has been sentenced to serve 15 months in a women’s correction facility after she’s caught with a briefcase full of drug money 10 years ago for her one-time lesbian lover, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon). Chapman is a nice lady, the lone Martha Stewart among the rest of the prison dregs.
Right off the bat, Chapman’s fellow inmates act fairly decent towards her and I can tell the supporting characters are going to be a helluva lot more interesting than Chapman herself.
The first prisoner we meet – other than Chapman, of course – is Lorna Morello (Yael Stone), who’s anticipating the day she’ll be reunited with her fiance on the “outside” and is responsible for driving the women to the prison. We also get a brief glimpse of Laverne Cox’s transgender character, Sophia Burset, towards the end of the episode.
Additionally, there’s Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne), who Chapman spies giving oral sex to another inmate in the showers. Nichols is a bit of a loudmouth and sees Red (Kate Mulgrew) – the Russian inmate who runs the kitchen – as a mother figure. Red dotes on the other inmates, except Chapman who immediately makes a bad first impression with Red when she insults the food – not knowing that Red does the cooking.
In return, Red gifts her a used tampon squished between two buns. This leads Chapman to immediately have a panic attack and she runs out of the cafeteria only to run into Alex – the woman indirectly responsible for putting Chapman in prison in the first place – herself.
Throughout the episode, we get flashbacks to Chapman’s life prior to entering the prison. Her Jewish author boyfriend, Larry (Jason Biggs), proposes to her despite knowing she’s headed to prison for 15 months. He drives her to the holding facility in the beginning of the episode, and the two share a sorrowful goodbye, with Larry promising to wait for her.
Larry is obviously an upstanding guy, but their relationship wasn’t very interesting. Chapman’s history with Alex, however, promises to be more intriguing.
The other episodes will focus a little more on the other inmates, and that’s something I’m looking forward to. This first episode seemed to drag a little for me, but it set up certain storylines and character arcs very nicely.
Jenji Kohan, the creator of Orange Is the New Black, also did Weeds – in case you were wondering. She seems to have a penchant for stories that involve uprooting suburban white woman from their upper class life and putting them in uncomfortable situations. Like I said, I’m much more interested in finding out about these other side characters.