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(UPDATED WITH STATEMENT FROM JEN LANCASTER) "Orange Is the New Black" Is the New Black

Jul 31, 2013

Note: I am required by Internet and TV and blogger ethics to tell you there are sort of spoilers in here but not really. 

Is anyone else going through Orange Is the New Black withdrawals this week? The theme song, written and sung by Regina Spektor who I normally do not like, has been going through my head for four days and it's the only thing quieting the tiny voice in my head that says, *SPOILER ALERT BUT NOT REALLY!* "Piper didn't need a shank after all! What will happen next?! MY LIFE IS SO HARD BUT IT WOULD BE HARDER IF I WERE IN PRISON!!!"

I remember when Orange Is the New Black was first published (in case you didn't know, the TV show is based on a memoir of a Brooklynite lady named Piper who went to prison for a year), I was kind of annoyed because of my love for Jen Lancaster's Bitter Is the New Black. At a book signing a couple of years ago, someone asked her if she'd considered selling it for a movie, and she told us no, because Orange Is the New Black was taking over that market of titles with anything "is the new black" in it.

You were robbed, Jen, robbed!!


I was pretty disappointed then, but I totally get why Orange was picked over Bitter (nothing against Bitter, which is still one of my faves). Orange has many character with which to work with, each with an unusual story.

Bitter has plenty of characters, but you would probably not relate with many of them the way you would with those in OrangeOrange makes you think you'll be rooting for Piper, which you will, but not necessarily at the expense of all the others. By the end of the first season, you're left wondering what the deal with Crazy Eyes is, not because she's so weird but because you genuinely want to know who she is as a person, much more than why she is in prison. You feel that way about everyone in there with Piper, which I wasn't expecting on account of all the prison documentaries and shows I watched during Unemployment 2013.

From Lockdown, for instance, I learned that all people in maximum security prison should be considered violent and scheming, and you shouldn't trust them for a second. So now I know -- DO NOT TRUST INMATES, EVEN THE LADIES. Orange, however, is set in a minimum security prison, so I'm learning that's not as bad (Washington Post confirms this here). However, Piper is warned not to make any friends.

(*SPOILER ALERT BUT NOT REALLY!* She does anyway, and now every one of us watching that show wants to be friends with her too.)

I want to be friends with BOTH Pipers!

Secondly, I was well aware of "tribal" mentality. During a recent conversation with a couple of friends who hadn't seen the show but had heard it's rampant with racial stereotypes, I interjected, "I disagree. It's actually quite true to reality, and I know because I watch a lot of Lockdown," which immediately made me winner of the debate and instant anthropological expert. Basically in prison the races stick together. So in the show when Red -- *SPOILER ALERT BUT NOT REALLY!* -- starves out Piper, that's a bit of a digression and more for dramatic effect. It was a terrific episode, but in the book Piper explains that Red gave her a good talking to and recommended she keep her mouth shut so as not to incite a prison riot.

Also, I think all the lesbian action is a bit on the embellished side. The peeing on the floor to get back at someone? I'd like to think that's for real.

The thing I love most about the show, though, is how it really digs into humanity and causes you to consider how you'd do in prison. You go on the journey with Piper -- from thinking of resourceful ways to take care of business with extremely limited resources... finally getting past the stuff on the surface and taking a hard look at yourself on the inside.

When Piper begins to do that, you know prison will mean more to her than just working on her perfect wedding body, as she told her fiancee she'd do during those 15 months.

All 13 episodes are available on Netflix, and the second season is in the works. I am now a member of my neighborhood DC Library so I can check out the ebook (I'm No. 35 on a waiting list), but until I get my turn, I'm loving learning more about the show and the real Piper and Larry.

Here are fun facts about the show.

Here's a post on the cutest CO on the block.

Here's the New York Times story Larry wrote (and it's SO much better than the one you hear about on the show).

Here's a Q&A with the real Piper on what prison is like.

Here's the best review I've read on the show.

And here are the opening credits sung by Regina Spektor, which holds so much meaning now that I've seen the first season. Also, I can't confirm this, but rumor has it the faces of the women are actual inmates.

P.S. All guys I've talked to about this are not interested in Orange because it's a "lady show." All I can do is roll my eyes. This is so much more than a lady show, whatever that means.

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