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article imageReview: Netflix original series 'Orange Is the New Black' debuts July 11 Special

By Mindy Peterman     Jul 2, 2013 in Entertainment
Like 'House of Cards' and 'Hemlock Grove' before it, The new Netflix original series is quality fare. It is a provocative, unflinching look at life at life in a women's prison...from a yuppie's point of view.
Piper Channing (Taylor Schilling) is a thirty-something Brooklynite, engaged to her writer-fiance, Larry Bloom (Jason Biggs). The couple are sailing the calm seas of yuppiedom and soon-to-be married bliss until Piper’s past rears its ugly head and puts a hold on their rosy plans.
It seems ten years earlier, Piper was involved in a lesbian relationship with drug-runner Alex (Laurie Prepon), who promised her love, adventure and world travel. Alex made good on her word but now a decade later, Piper is arrested for carrying a suitcase of Alex’s ill-gotten cash. Piper’s sentence? Fifteen months in Litchfield federal penitentiary.
So begins Orange Is the New Black, a Netflix original dramedy, created by Jenji Kohan (who also created Weeds) and based on the acclaimed memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman.
The challenges of presenting this story in accessible way were not lost on Kohan. But she had the perfect protagonist in Piper. In an exclusive interview with Netflix for the press, Kohan explains, “Piper was the perfect entry into this world. You could take this yuppie white girl and follow her inside and, through her as a sort of ‘gateway drug', you can tell all these other stories as well. And I got really excited about that.”
The characters Piper meets in prison and the relationships she must form to survive say a lot about human nature. When she inadvertently insults the cafeteria cook’s culinary offerings, Piper must pay the consequences or starve. How to make things right in prison, she discovers, has a great deal to do with savvy and resourcefulness. She must, in essence, become street-wise very quickly.
“We did a lot of research,” Kohan explains. “We read a lot of books. We went to a women’s facility in Chino with all the writers. Within 10 or 15 minutes, we could not wait to get out of there. You can’t leave, and it’s oppressive and it’s not a place you want to be.”
Spending an hour an episode behind prison walls might not be the best way to hold an audience, so we are offered backstories to bring us up to speed with why certain characters have been incarcerated. Past and present merge to give us a better understanding of these women. Besides Piper, we learn about transgender inmate Sophia (Laverne Cox). Sophia has a wife on the outside, who has come to terms with her husband’s change but their son is a whole different matter. Galina “Red” Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew) wields power and inspires fear behind prison walls. But we are shown that this was never the case on the outside.
Will Piper and Larry’s relationship survive the separation? From the looks of it, Larry is starting to become restless after only a few weeks apart from his beloved. His writing is suffering and he has taken to pleasuring himself while watching porn videos. He is also watching Mad Men without Piper, something he vowed to her he would never do. Could this be the beginning of the end for these two? Since Netflix has renewed the series for another season (even before the pilot episode has aired), there will be ample time for this and other pertinent plot points to be dealt with.
The show may be daring and provocative but, in the end, Kohan says, it is more about entertainment than anything else. “In general, I don’t shy away from much,” she says. “This is my way of expressing myself and if I’m given a platform, I’m going to step up on it. But you don’t want to preach to anyone. My job is to entertain and if it gets a conversation started or gets people talking, then great. I want people to fall in love with these characters and enjoy watching this show.”
The entire first season of Orange Is the New Black will begin streaming on Netflix, July 11.
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