Netflix is on quite the role right now with original television programming. This month Netflix received its first ever Emmy Award nomination for a major series when “House of Cards,” which I have not yet seen but hope to begin soon, garnered a nomination for Best Drama Series. The Internet streaming company also received nominations for its other two programs “Arrested Development,” which it brought back after an eight year hiatus, and “Hemlock Grove,” which merely received nominations in technical categories, but hey a nomination is a nomination.
Netflix’s newest original programming series, which debuted this month, is one that could easily garner Emmy nominations when it’s eligible in 2014. The series “Orange Is the New Black,” based on a memoir by Piper Kerman, is a women’s prison drama/black comedy from the creators of the former Showtime hit comedy “Weeds” and it’s fantastic.
When you hear the subgenre “women’s prison drama” you kind of have to roll your eyes in disgust, because in the past the theme has merely been a reason for filmmakers to exploit women. It’s always somewhat seemed like stories set in a women’s prison were merely done so as to have lesbian prison sex scenes, with poor attempts at plot mixed in.
“Orange Is the New Black” is thankfully much more than that. Don’t get me wrong there are still shower and lesbian sex scenes, but they don’t feel exploitative. It’s merely part of the storyline.
This was the biggest question mark I had about the series before watching it, which I talked myself into after seeing just how great some of the early reviews for the series were. It didn’t take me long though to realize that this was a well-told, unique story about a preppy, well-to-do white girl thrown into the pokey for past transgressions she did out of love a decade ago. It is Taylor Schilling’s Emmy-worthy performance as Piper Chapman that immediately drew me into this fish-out-of-water story and had me glued to the screen for the first few episodes.
Then as each episode passed by I began to quickly realize that this series was much more than just a great performance by its lead, but one of the best ensemble pieces on television (can we really call this television though, if it’s on Netflix?), whether it was Kate Mulgrew’s mother-ish Russian cook, Natasha Lyonne’s spunky, former junkie lesbian, Taryn Manning’s out-of-control redneck who’s now hopped up on Jesus instead of meth, Michael J. Harney’s soft-spoken prison counselor who claims to understand Piper and holds witch-hunt type feelings toward lesbians or Pablo Schreiber as a foul-mouthed, up-to-no-good jerk prison guard nicknamed “Pornstache” for his ‘70s style mustache. I literally could go on and on, this cast is so good and so fleshed out. Show creator Jenji Kohan has done an unbelievably good job mixing storylines from such a large cast that “Orange Is the New Black” proves to be one of the best ensemble units in recent memory.
Schilling’s performance as Chapman is one of the greatest representations of character growth over such a short span of time, 13 episodes, that I can remember ever seeing. Her character goes from meek and scared in the first few episodes to entirely sure of herself and one of the gang by the first season’s latter viewings. I had previously been unfamiliar with Schilling’s work, probably because this appears to be only her sixth role of any kind, but I can tell from this tour-de-force performance that she will be an actress to be reckoned with in the future.
“Orange Is the New Black” is a show that literally can be mined for an innumerable amount of storylines thanks to its talented large cast and its penchant for flashbacks, which it does with ease and grace, allowing it to leave the confines of the prison. The show was so liked by Netflix that it was picked up for a second season before its’ first even aired. That second season can’t get here fast enough, because life in a women’s prison never felt so good.