Orange Is The New Black

Before I get to raving about the new Netflix series, Orange Is The New Black, let me introduce you (if you haven’t already heard about it) to a film concept called the Bechdel Test. In order to pass this test, the film or show must meet the following criteria:

  1. It includes at least two women
  2. who have at least one conversation,
  3. about something other than a man or men.

For a more thorough explanation check out this video:

Welcome to a TV series that passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours. I binge-watched the entire first season of Orange Is The New Black in three days last week and am already impatient for season two. The series is based on Piper Kirwan’s memoir of the same name which recounts her experiences in a women’s prison in New York.

Taylor Schilling plays Piper Chapman (based on Kirwan). At the beginning of the series Chapman is incarcerated for fifteen months for carrying a suitcase full of drug money across borders for her girlfriend Alex Vause (Laura Prepon). In the years between being an accessory and getting convicted, Chapman’s life has radically changed and nowadays she is a yuppie, with a fiancé, her own business and a bourgeois life in New York.

Her fellow inmates include Natasha Lyonne as Nicky Nichols, a recovering drug addict with a great ability for one-liners; Taryn Manning as Tiffany ‘Pennsatucky’ Doggett, a white trash, born again Christian; Kate Mulgrew as Red, the ‘fixer’ who runs the kitchen; and eventually, inevitably, Chapman’s ex-girlfriend Alex. In every episode flashbacks show how each of the women ended up in prison and in this way the series covers a variety of issues from drug addiction and teenage homelessness, to credit card fraud and racketeering. But despite all the hardship there’s a huge amount of humour and warmth, not to mention wonderful performances.

In Sinead Gleeson’s great article about the show in the Irish Times recently, Schilling says: ‘Very few shows focus on so many women, where it’s not about them being a wife, or reacting to a man or being in a relationship with a man. It’s so unusual to get sent a script where the woman is taking the hero’s journey.’ It’s a very good point and one worth remembering, but Orange Is The New Black is not just a landmark series from a female perspective, it’s also bloody good television: original, entertaining, well-written and very ballsy.

The first series is available to watch on Netflix now and there’s a second series scheduled for 2014. I cannot believe I have to wait that long for it, especially considering how explosively the first series ended. I guess that’s yet another lesson in patience for me!



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