When people talk about where they'd like to live—the mountains, the beach, the city, the country—the word prison doesn't come up that often. Certainly it's never been a dream destination for Piper Chapman, a nice, reasonably well-off suburbanite. She's just not the type, possessing, as she does, a college education, a start-up soap business (which she owns with her best friend) and a fiancé (a young writer named Larry). She's more Bloomingdale's than Big House, more Saks than Slammer.
Or at least that's who Piper was (or thought she was) before she got sent to Litchfield Penitentiary. And this isn't the first time Piper's gone through change. Once upon a time, she was the lesbian lover of Alex Vause, an international drug dealer with whom she smuggled drug money into Belgium.
"It was my lost soul, post-college adventure phase!" she tells Larry. And while Larry may be pretty understanding, the law is not. Piper's forced to cop a plea, surrender herself and spend the next 15 months in the clink. She's just Chapman now—no room for hoity-toity first names in Litchfield—as she tries to stay out of trouble (at least the deadly kind) and learn the prison's complicated sociopolitical culture. And, oh yeah, figure out how to deal with Alex—because her ex-lover happens to be serving time in the very same prison.
And so as the months tick away and Piper's sentence extends through whole television seasons, she, and her rapt viewers, begin to question just who Piper really is.
Orange Is the New Black is based on a memoir by Piper Kerman, who spent about a year in prison for money laundering and drug trafficking. It was created by Jenji Kohan, the mind behind Showtime's Weeds. And most mainstream critics love it with a nearly criminal fanaticism, using language normally reserved for the likes of Mad Men or Breaking Bad. The San Francisco Chronicle says the program has redefined "television excellence," in fact. And the San Jose Mercury News declares it "one of the summer's must-see shows."
But while the Netflix show is sharply written, populated by multidimensional characters and ultimately has some nice things to say about friendship, acceptance and forgiveness, families will want to send it to jail after watching only a few minutes.
Some of the women in the prison facility are lesbians (either by sexual inclination or lack of male partners), and the Netflix camera tends to linger on their sexual encounters. (There's a transgender inmate as well.) Even when there's no obvious behind-the-bars hanky-panky in play, female nudity is frequent and graphic. There is no privacy here—no doors to keep the camera away from the toilet or shower. Violence includes women (sometimes while naked) getting threatened, beaten up, cut, etc. F- and s- and even c-words are thrown around like so many stale biscuits in the cruddy cafeteria.
In the opening episode of the second season, Piper is whisked off to a holding facility in Chicago, wherein she's expected to testify against Alex's former drug boss, Kubra Balik. She struggles with whether to tell the truth under oath or lie to protect Alex and herself from retribution.
She flashes back to childhood, seeing her father kiss a woman who's certainly not her mom. But when she told her mother about the kiss, the older woman ignored her. "Telling the truth was not a big priority in my family," Piper later says. And, indeed, she eventually lies in court, waxing nostalgic over her past love affair with Alex.
Female prisoners are shown fully nude. They're forced to bend over for a cavity inspection. Piper pulls down her pants to urinate. Another woman noisily defecates in an open cell toilet. Crude and/or obscene references are made to rape and sexual body parts. Piper bribes a male inmate with a pair of her dirty panties (which he sniffs). We see Piper and Alex kiss and cuddle in a pool. A cellmate licks Piper's face and talks about how she bit her girlfriend's tongue off and swallowed it. Piper recounts how she may have beaten a fellow prisoner to death.
Someone smokes. Cockroaches smuggle cigarettes. A prisoner tries to hide a razor in her mouth and, when it's taken away, spits in the guard's face. Convoluted horoscopes are concocted. We hear the f-word at least 25 times, the s-word nearly 20 times and the gamut of milder expletives, including "b‑‑ch," "a‑‑," "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑" and "p‑‑‑." Jesus' name is abused four or five times, God's once or twice. Kids break rules and sneak into R movies.
"I Wasn't Ready"
In flashback, Chapman showers with her lesbian lover, kissing and embracing. (We see them fully nude from the side.) Chapman also shares a tub with her boyfriend. A bathroom scene in prison features naked women, and when Chapman exits the shower another inmate squeezes her breasts and comments on their attributes.
That's the show's first two minutes.
Later we see a lesbian couple, nude and with one woman's face pressed into the other's groin as she fondles her lover's breast. Chapman and her former female lover, Alex, are frequently shown smooching and flirting and seducing each other. Chapman and Larry have sex the night before she goes to prison. (We see kissing and heavy panting; Chapman wears lingerie.) A prison guard masturbates (out of the frame) after meeting with Chapman. References are made to masturbation and body parts.
Chapman uses the toilet, and the scene includes images of her wiping. She's "given" a bloody tampon to eat by the kitchen supervisor, and she undergoes a body cavity search. Vomit is discussed. Chapman and friends drink wine and beer. The f-word is said more than a dozen times, the s-word eight or 10 and the c-word once. We also hear "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "h‑‑‑," "p‑‑‑y" and "t-t." Jesus' and God's names are abused twice or three times each.