When Dek, my esteemed editor, called me up to ask if I’d ever be writing for him again I said yeah, but I didn’t know what about. He was all, “What about this new show, “Orange and Black” or something like that? I think it’s about the OSU Cowboys but with lesbians, right? Tell me why I should watch that show.”
I can do that. I watched that show. I have no patience so I glutted myself on “Orange Is the New Black” over the course of two days. Once finished I got super pissed that I’d have to wait practically a decade before there was another season.
Challenge accepted, Dek.
The fact that you asked me why you should watch “Orange Is the New Black” leads me to believe you’ve never read the Internet so I’ll give you a breakdown of what all the fuss is about.
“OitNB” (Yeah, we’re on acronym terms) is based upon an eponymous memoir written by a white chick with the whitest white-chick name ever, Piper Kerman. She was a lesbian in college (Weren’t we all?) who got involved with an international drug smuggler. One time she carried a suitcase of drug money.
Ten years later Piper, having traded in her LUG (lesbian until graduation) card for Brooklyn hipster realness, got arrested for the crime and sent to a minimum-security federal prison.
Piper is the least interesting character on the show, bar none. It’s difficult if not impossible to feel sympathy for her white girl problems like “Oh my god, when I get out of prison there will be, like, 3 new generations of iPhone.” That’s why I’m not going to waste any more time talking about her.
However, since this is American, the show requires a skinny blonde girl to usher the viewer into a world of blacks, browns, and homosexuals. You know, the people who make culture.
Let us consider what is currently on the television landscape: reality shows (actually don’t think about those), soaps (awesome but not for everybody), fucking news all the fucking time (downer, also gratuitously sensationalistic), “Marie” hosted by Marie Osmond and shows about teenage girls with long wavy brown hair.
Primetime is glutted with cops, lawyers, doctors, doctors in love, and scrawny bitches. Within all of those universes what you will see most often on any show is a white, male anti-hero.
Television cannot get enough of these guys. Don Draper from “Mad Men,” Nucky Thompson from “Boardwalk Empire,” Malcolm’s Dad from “Breaking Bad,” Dexter from “Dexter”; all these dudes are reprehensible, but we give them a break because the stories are nuanced and the supporting cast is fantastic.
I’m going to toss out an exception for “Dexter” which I quit watching two seasons in when I couldn’t remember anyone else’s name and, more importantly, didn’t care. I’ve also never actually seen “Breaking Bad.” I hear it’s good (Editor’s note: it’s very, very good and you should consider watching it in spite of its white maleness) but I have a limited capacity for giving a shit about TV shows and my dance card is full.
There’s a ton of other shows out there about misunderstood white guys and the women who love them. “Longmire” sounds like a soggy dump taken the morning after a night of Keystone Light. “Justified” allegedly stars Timothy Olyphant but it’s really about his tight, tight jeans.
The only people who watch these shows are other white guys who like to think they are misunderstood anti-heroes. In reality, they are boring schlubs married to boring women who watch these shows with them but would really rather be watching “Say Yes to the Dress.”
Of course, these men dream of being sharp-dressed badasses, we all do. But there’s only so much you can take before asking the same question women have asked for generations, “Is that all there is?”
“Orange Is the New Black” is unlike anything else you’ll see on TV which is probably the reason that the show is streaming on Netflix rather than premiering after “So You Think You Can Dance.”
I’m sure by now you’re saying, “JAYSUS, Lady. What DOES this show have? And how do the Cowboys figure in?”
I’ll tell you what’s on “Orange Is the New Black”: Women. Lots of them. All different kinds.
It’s a show that completely rejects the male gaze and it is so refreshing. These women don’t give a fuck if they don’t measure up to what a panel of judges armed with an algorithm deems to be hot. They’ve got other shit going on and a lot of the time men are only getting in their way.
I’m not the first person to write about this show, heavens no. Everybody and their old great auntie have something to say about “OitNB.” This is why I was initially hesitant to throw in my two centemes. But the more I read the more I noticed that most commenters fall into two camps.
One is the “This show is great because its cast is made up of women of all kinds.” This is true. There are black women, Hispanic women. Kate Mulgrew plays a Russian. There are lesbians both as actresses (the bountiful Lea DeLaria) and characters along with a transgender woman (Laverne Cox) who doesn’t play a sex worker. Natasha Lyonne is on the show and let me tell you she fucking kills it. All those years of doing hard drugs in real-life lend insane gravitas to her character, Nicky, a recovering drug addict.
Each episode spotlights one character, sometimes two, with a flashback showing who they were before they went to prison and what they did to get them there. These bring depth to each character which keeps them from becoming a stereotype.
This brings me to the other camp, those who watch the show and try and ruin it for everyone by complaining that things aren’t good enough. Yes, there are black women on the show but look at them; there they are talking about fried chicken! RACIST! How come they only show the black girls with their tops off? None of the white girls show their tits! RACIST! (and not true.) How come the lesbians in the cast are all tough and butch but the straight girls playing lesbians are all hot? LESBIANIST!
It’s like the people who write these things have never tried fried chicken and do not realize that it’s delicious. Nor do they pause to consider that perhaps the decision to flash tit on camera is up to the actress and not the producers. I can only assume they have ever met actual lesbians who, like all people, run the gamut from “The Hottest Woman Ever Seen By Human Eyes” to “Looks Like Jack Palance.” Also, who’s to say that the tough, butch lesbians aren’t hot? I’m looking at you Poussey (Samira Wiley).
I say to these people, “Stop talking!” Of course, they never do. I bet before “OitNB” made its debut they were bitching because the only shows out there were about white male anti-heroes with minority sidekicks who never get to fall in love. Shows like that only have room for one black person, one gay, and one kooky retro girl who’s also a computer whiz. If they can roll all that up into one character so much the better. They have every right to bitch about that. Hell, more people should bitch about that.
No television show can give you everything you demand, be it good or bad. My dream show is a version of “Glee” that’s only about Kurt and Blaine, rated R, and on every day. I know Dek that in your perfect world “OitNB” would be about hot lesbians and the OSU Cowboys teaming up with Jack Bauer to fight Tommy Lee Jones from “The Fugitive” (Editor’s note: In my defense, 95% of America would watch the hell out of that show).
Nothing will ever be perfect (except “Mad Men”) but it can be different from all the other dreck out there. “Orange Is the New Black” is different and that difference is what makes it amazing.
Oh yeah, Laura Prepon aka Donna from “That 70s Show” plays a lesbian on “OitNB.” She is officially “The Hottest Woman Ever Seen By Human Eyes.”
You can email Erin Lady Byrne (firstname.lastname@example.org) or find her on Twitter @ErinLadyByrne where she’s losing her damn mind over “Orange Is the New Black.”