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TV Reviews

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama, Comedy, Crime
Cast
Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman; Laura Prepon as Alex Vause; Michael Harney as Sam Healy; Michelle Hurst as Miss Claudette Pelage; Kate Mulgrew as Galina 'Red' Reznikov; Jason Biggs as Larry Bloom; Natasha Lyonne as Nicky Nichols; Pablo Schreiber as George 'Pornstache' Mendez; Dascha Polanco as Dayanara Diaz
Channel
Netflix
Reviewer
Paul Asay
Orange Is the New Black

Orange Is the New Black

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 she is now. Once upon a time, she was the lesbian lover of Alex Vause, an international drug smuggler. Oh, and she once helped said girlfriend carry a suitcase full of drug money to Belgium.

Whoops.

"It was my lost soul, post-college adventure phase!" she tells Larry. And while Larry may be pretty understanding, the law is not so forgiving. Piper's forced to cop a plea, surrender herself and spend the next 15 months in the clink. She's Chapman now—no room for hoity-toity first names in Litchfield prison—as she tries to stay out of trouble 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.

Orange Is the New Black (which premiered all 13 of its first-season episodes at once, as is Netflix's habit) 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 nearly to death, 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 stale biscuits in the cafeteria.

Episode Reviews

"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.

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