The quickly popular memoir-based series Orange is the New Black was wildly successful considering its status as a Netflix-exclusive show. Debuting this past July, this American comedy-drama created by Jenji Kohan scored a 79 out of 100 based on reviews from critics and has captured the excitement of fans worldwide. The show also generated more viewers and hours viewed in its first week than either of the other high-profile Netflix original series: the acclaimed House of Cards and the long-awaited fourth season of Arrested Development.
At first, many viewers were wary: How could a show achieve such instantaneous success with such a varied demographic? How much would the show differ from the memoir Piper Kerman authored following her experiences in prison?
The show succeeds with audiences because of its interesting storyline and superb writing. Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling) proves to be more than just a privileged woman being sent to a women’s federal prison for 15 months; the story is one of a constant struggle in maintaining normalcy with her family on the outside, gaining the respect of other prisoners, avoiding conflict with terrible prison guards and wardens, and surviving the loneliness of time behind bars. Co-star Alex Vause (played by Laura Prepon) is Piper’s ex – and the sole reason that Piper is in prison to begin with, as the two were former lovers and involved in a drug ring many years before.
Viewers develop a sense of empathy for each inmate introduced, as they each receive an explanation for their imprisonment through various flashbacks. The intersections of sexual orientation, race, socio-economic class, age, gender identity, religion, mental health, drug abuse, and culture all surface. Though these subjects may seem to be forced and awkward, creator Kohan transforms each into beautiful and relatable vignettes.
While the series begins with painting obvious villains somewhat heavy-handedly, viewers begin to realize that privileged Piper is perhaps the most manipulative character on set – as seen through her back-and-forth relationship with Alex and Larry, her fiancé waiting for her on the other side.
Other notable cast members include Galina “Red” Reznikov played by Kate Mulgrew, Sophia Burset played by Laverne Cox, and Miss Claudette Pelage played by Michelle Hurst.
All in all, this is a series that can – and perhaps should, as many fans have suggested – be binge-watched in a weekend.