Why OITNB is the best TV to happen to women

Netflix is a crafty beast. It cleverly cues up the next episode of a series as the credits roll, so all you think is “just one more” without even having to get up.

Netflix is a crafty beast. It cleverly cues up the next episode of a series as the credits roll, so all you think is “just one more” without even having to get up. Orange Is The New Black is the perfect binge-watching series. Each episode ends on the precise blend of resolution and suspense that makes you feel as though you could stop watching, you know, any time – but just one more.

Seriously. One more. Then I’ll shower. I just need to see what happens to… Oh look it’s started now.

Not much has changed since last series. Piper is transferred to testify against her former drug lord boss, Pennsatucky has new teeth and there’s a new bitch in the Ghetto, but besides that it’s business as usual in Litchfield – pantyhose to be smuggled, power plays to be won and stale cigarettes to be traded.

This was the winning formula that made series one a storming success—series two has taken this and added more plot and character developments.

Lead character Piper grated on the audience last series. Whining and self-absorbed, she chased trouble like it was her prison-wife. But her pathetic passiveness has hardened. Now tough and manipulative she has no qualms about selling off a new inmate for sex, in return for a threadbare blanket. It makes her instantly more likeable.

A different perception…

The excruciating contrast between ex-fiancé Larry’s shallow ramblings about Bagnuts (bagel/donut hybrids) while Piper is scrabbling around on the ground to catch cockroaches show the stark differences between inside and out, no matter how the inmates try to mimic the cultural and social structures they’ve been removed from.

But despite this there is humour and warmth in every story that makes the agonizing circumstances bearable. It’s these back stories which are the most painful to watch as we know how they all end up, but they are one of the show’s cleverest features – making us root for the characters and see them as more than just criminals.

More than an addictive, well written drama, OITNB has a powerful social stance, raising the profile for female, racial minority, and LGBT characters and television storylines by presenting developed, intense characters from all races and cultural backgrounds, rather than dropping in the token minority actor and gay character to pad out the cast.

Every woman in the show has a reason for being there and they are all fighting clichés – Miller, the junkie who wants to pay back everything she ever stole and ‘Crazy Eyes’ Suzanne who wanted fit in to her adopted family so much it drove her mad.

…and a different portrayal

The show easily passes the Bechdel test, which examines whether there are at least 2 female lead characters who have a conversation about something other than men. OITNB is all girl leads and men are the least of their problems. Don’t worry – it’s not thirteen episodes of nail polish thieves discussing their feelings in group therapy, there are all the explosive robberies, murders and drug deals you’d expect from a male focused prison show. 

The calm aggression some of the characters exert is so feminine and so frightening, partly because it is women doing the stabbing, stealing and “slocking” – putting a metal padlock inside a sock and swinging it like a bat.

We’re so used to shows like Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy showing violent men at their worst, but it’s still a surprise to see women on television shattering eye sockets and puncturing lungs. It’s not pleasant or comfortable to watch but damn is it a good step for the portrayal of women as more than the supporting characters—victims, damsels and sex toys.

Even the men are well rounded and developed characters – we see the personal struggles of the administration and guards, Chief Caputo’s terrible band and Officer O’Neill’s love for the miniature banjo and his fear of nuns. As the prison newspaper states – guards are people too. How many male based prison shows put this much effort into creating their female characters?

Whether you’re a man or woman, looking for drama, action, humour or humanity Orange Is the New Black captures everyone. It is heart-breaking and heart-warming in equal measure and there is no way to stop once you start watching.

Just don’t blame me when you emerge from your room in three days smelling like inmate Soso. It really is that good.

What do you think? Have you seen Orange Is the New Black? Have your say in the comments section below.