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Breaking boundaries, in prison

BY VICTORIA VAUGHN | JULY 02, 2015 5:00 AM

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‘Orange is the New Black’ reflects major changes on TV. 

Written by a woman, directed by a woman, and placing women at the center of the story — a TV show with these characteristics is rare in the entertainment industry. 

However, a Netflix original series that fits the bill for each of these elements has taken the industry by storm: “Orange is the New Black.”

The story behind “Orange” is taken from a memoir written by Piper Kerman. The best-selling book details Kerman’s life during a 13-month prison sentence for the nonviolent crime of drug smuggling. While there, Kerman was not directly affected by violent outbreaks. In fact, it was a rarity to witness or be a part of a violent act during her time in the women’s prison. The real fears Kerman faced rested in the threat of solitary confinement and corruption. These fears provided a springboard for the now popular TV show — and the rest is history. 

Well, not completely. 

It’s obvious that the show has a loyal following. It was renewed for a second season before the first season premièred. Why wouldn’t it? The plot line is compelling — a middle-class woman goes to prison for a crime carried out in the name of love. When she arrives, she meets some crafty, if not scary, characters that beg for your attention and care. At times, these characters are even more interesting than the female protagonist, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling). Not to say that Chapman isn’t a good character, but how can she compete with Crazy Eyes, Vee, and Red? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, all the more reason to watch the show.

Either way, having a series that mixes colorful characters and themes such as sex, violence, discovery, and corruption almost guarantees success. But that just scratches the surface of what this show offers.

While it may difficult to see past gratuitous sex and thrilling plot twists, “Orange” seems to reflect major societal changes. This becomes clear after watching each season. The series seems to go like this: Season 1 covers sexuality, Season 2 exposes the dangers of power, and Season 3 touches on perception and corruption.

When the show débuted in 2013, the world was going through some major changes. One of the biggest developments that year was the initial Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage equality and Pope Francis teaching tolerance for homosexuality. Strangely enough, “Orange” saturated its first season with girl-on-girl action. 

At times, the show seemed to be milking the appeal of sexual interactions. Thankfully, the show makes up for its superficiality with excellent writers. Season 1 writers proved “Orange” has a deep understanding of self-discovery and love during a time of monumental change. This becomes especially true for main character Chapman, who is married to a man, yet in love with an inmate.

Her journey in the first season is very much about learning to love the “real her” rather than the “her” that is expected by friends and family. 

The parallels between the show and real life don’t end there, especially after the recent beginning of the third season. But it can be difficult to make viewers see these underlying similarities when they are buried beneath sex and violence. 

However, it’s impossible not to see the strides the show has made in the TV industry.

The series breaks barriers that most TV shows don’t dare approach. First, Chapman isn’t the center of the story. She also isn’t the most likable character, which is highly uncharacteristic of protagonists. Furthermore, the show features women of many different ethnicities and sexual preferences — it even makes a reference to the Kinsey Scale. Producers also make a point to feature class divides and how those ethnic differences manifest into relational turmoil between each character.

Whether it’s for an escape or to witness real-life issues, “Orange” is a show worth watching. It’s breaking boundaries with its unapologetic view on life — what’s more binge-worthy than that?


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