After meaning to read Piper Kerman's memoir Orange is the New Black since I first read an excerpt of it in Marie Claire in 2010. I finally squeezed it in audio in advance of its premiere on Netflix last Thursday. (It was fabulous--if you haven't read it, I strongly recommend the audio narration by Cassandra Campbell!) So how does the show measure up?
In short: it's lewd, shrewd, brilliant, hilarious, tragic, haunting and beautiful. The first few episodes are remarkably close to the memoir. The writers made some smart decisions about reordering sequences and flashbacks that make it better tv, but almost everything in the first few episodes will be familiar to someone who has read the book. After a few episodes, however, Orange is the New Black goes off the rails in some beautiful and haunting ways. Piper Chapman (as she's known in the series) truly stops being Piper Kerman and becomes Piper Chapman, and it's delightful to see. I can't help but see some of Nancy Botwin (Weeds creator Jenji Kohan adapted Orange is the New Black) in Piper Chapman, and that's a good thing for this series.
Orange is the New Black toys with ideas of right and wrong, and good and evil. What makes these themes so successful and complex here is how the writers explore these themes not only among the inmates, but also among the prison guards and the prisoners' families. There are some obvious characters we're not meant to like or root for, but I couldn't help finding myself cheering for even the most despicable characters at times, particularly in the later episodes. This show pushes the boundaries beautifully, and even as I root for my favorite characters, part of me wants them to fail too--because it might be that much more interesting. That's a remarkable feat possibly only with a wonderful combination of storytelling and acting.
It's rare I want to start watching a season as soon as I finish, but I'm eager to start Orange is the New Black again. Perhaps because I read the book, I came in with certain assumptions or ideas about where the story was going. Regardless, knowing how many twists and turns the first season held, I want to go back and see where all of the characters begin to fully appreciate it.
Needless to say, I'm eagerly awaiting season 2, but I'll enjoy watching season 1 a few more times before it comes around.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Source: It's only available via Netflix streaming (for now)
If you've seen all of season one and want to chat with spoilers, please let me know!
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