Orange Is the New Black S01E01: "Pilot"

Note: I will be writing up thoughts on Orange Is the New Black two episodes at a time on a weekly basis, but this first review will only cover the pilot. Look for a joint review of Episodes 2 and 3 next Wednesday, July 17


When Orange Is the New Black was announced as one of four new shows in Netflix's inaugural push into original programming, it slipped on the drool pouring from the mouths of Arrested Development fans and tripped over the red carpet laid out for the A-list-studded House of Cards. It became an afterthought, the player in the "player to be named later" metaphor. But those two anticipated series mostly fizzled; House of Cards earned mixed-to-positive reviews but fell short of lofty expectationsArrested Development kinda stunk early on and only sort of came together in the end, and Hemlock Grove was a 10-episode disaster of puking, blood-sex, and living nightmares. They left Netflix with a whole lotta hype about its all-you-can-eat distribution model but not much that went down easy. Well, we've let Netflix serve us mediocre appetizers, salads, and entrees, but let me tell you, the Orange dessert is awfully tasty. 

Based on Piper Kerman's memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison and adapted for television by Weeds creator Jenji Kohan, the series takes a premise fit for porno (women's prison!) and adds a strong sense of humanity and wit shepherded by Kohan's strong voice. Taylor Schilling (Argo) plays Piper, a somewhat-spoiled-but-far-from-an-heiress blonde lady who gets locked up for a drug-money crime she committed 10 years ago (this setup is so Jenji, isn't it?).

It sounds like an awful exposé of the atrocities of incarceration, but the pilot episode played a little trick on viewers giving Piper a relatively smooth introduction to prison. Thinking some handbook about prison she read would give her a heads-up on the inner workings of life behind bars, Piper strode into her 15-month sentence with confidence. And aside from a few hiccups early on, things looked as if they'd be merely uncomfortable, but nothing that MacGyvering some shower shoes out of maxipads couldn't fix. However, the prison nightmare everyone expected eventually arrived—specifically after Piper told kitchen queen Red (a greasy Kate Mulgrew) that the food in prison sucked—and watching everything collapse around Piper in a matter of minutes was the kind of black comedy we'd been waiting for. If you weren't giddily laughing when Piper's lesbian ex Alex (Laura Prepon) showed her face in the closing scene, this probably isn't the series for you. 

The first episode mostly indicated that prison isn't going to be entirely awful for Piper, but the end of revealed that life in the slammer is going to be pretty terrible at times, too. And that's important to cement early on, because Piper herself is a character who I want to see both succeed and fail. In flashbacks (which are used remarkably well), we saw a normal woman doing stupid, regrettable things many people will be able to relate to, like getting involved in a steamy post-college lesbian relationship with a drug dealer (feel free to substitute your own appropriate bad decision). But we also saw a woman who was tearfully moved when her shlubby boyfriend (Jason Biggs) proposed to her before she shipped out to the clink, and a woman who doesn't deserve to be in jail in the first place. It's that back-and-forth of fortune and misfortune in flashbacks that established Piper as a sympathetic character, and Schilling bounced between the two in a believable way that really worked. 

In present prison-time, however, it's a different story. Piper is completely unlike her fellow inmates in that she's a woman of relative privilege. It's good to see her prissy ass get cut down to size and her socioeconomic status flipped over. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to see Piper shanked in the shower or anything. But even though I do want her to make it because her flashbacks wrung some sympathy out of me, I don't want her to have an easy time of it, because it seems like everyone else in the prison has had it a lot worse. We want her to learn all the hard lessons that accompany coming face-to-face with the other side of life. Earn it, girl! 

It would have been easy enough to make Orange Is the New Black a tale of "Hey yo, look at this dumb white girl in prison!" Thankfully, this worldis rich with awesome three-dimensional inmates who aren't just faceless goons looking to make Piper's life hell. There's an incredible, palpable camaraderie that's immediate, and it stems from making the locked-up ladies... nice? If these women weren't hardened criminals, even I might want to hang out with them. They may be a little rough around the edges, but they clearly have their own stories to tell. And they won't be sad-sack woe-is-me stories, they'll be human stories of success and failure. If all goes well, Piper won't be the only one who sees this world in a different way; we will, too. Awww, doesn't that sound nice? 

All's good with Orange in the Black early on, and it's the only Netflix show that's made me want to start up the next episode immediately.


NOTES

– So... I did NOT expect to see Alex at the end of the episode. Was that a hallucination, or is she actually there?

– Pablo Schreiber from The Wire plays one of the prison guards who was trying to take Piper's ID photo, and he's hilarious with that giant mustache. 

– There are lots of great supporting characters already, but early on I'm favoring Rosemarie (the prisoner who drove the van) and Nicky (the frizzy-haired lesbian). 

– If you'd like to watch along with me, I'll be reviewing two episodes at a time, and posting the writeups on Wednesdays.

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 6/17/2016

Season 4 : Episode 13

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Sympathetic? I couldn't stand Piper in this episode!
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Rosemarie ismy favorite too!!
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I'm just getting caught up on the reviews and have to say I love the show.

I'm not getting your " It's good to see her prissy ass get cut down to size and her socioeconomic status flipped over"...she seemed nice and a little idealistic/naive/happy (not prissy imo) prior to prison and I didn't get a super prissy vibe from her..more of a happy carefree girl from what the pilot showed.
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I am in love with this series! I love the characters and story.. Im glad theres a season 2 coming!
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I just finished the pilot. Thanks Tim for a great review! This show is simply amazing.


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This show is amazing!
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I wasn't sure at all if I would like this, I thought the prison setting would be too dark for me - I tried to watch Wentworth (an Aussie show) a few weeks ago and I didn't enjoy it. But Orange is the New Black is amazing. Meant to just check out the pilot and ended up binging on half the show before I went to bed at 2am. Amazing!
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I did the same thing! I didnt want to quit watching!
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Wow this totally blew me away. It was low-key on the humour in the pilot but it was wonderfully human and compassionate towards its characters. I'm so glad it's telling this story the right way instead of cynically or sensationalistically (although there's plenty of nudity). This has already joined The Americans as one of the best new shows of 2013 and it's better than House of Cards so far although I really liked that one as well.
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I love this show. I'm at episode 8 now, I won't spoil anything but I would like to comment about the woman crying at the phone everytime Chapman is there. Hahahaha. I love the recurring jokes.
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Jason Biggs nails it - "I told you about the web cam and the shaving incident". Now they should also hint at Weeds references.
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This show was awesome! They better have second season and soon because they just can't end it like that.
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Netflix ordered season 2 (13 episodes) last month :) Un fortunately, we will have to wait for it till 2014.
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Thanks for the update, you've just brightened my day with that news.
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I think it's going to be so much harder to wait since they released them all at the same time! I started watching this morning and am about 10 minutes into episode nine. I'll finish before lunch tomorrow, and I know I'll be sad when it's over. :( The wait is seriously going to seem interminable.
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Firstly I must say I loved House of Cards too. I keep wanting to marathon it. This one not so much though I am a big fan of the earlier seasons of Weeds.

This prison looks too easy. Its a Kohan show and its dark comedy so I give a pass. The pace I thought was a little slow too. I hope the later episode picks it up or also it really need more humor and charm.

Its a Kohan show so expect nudity, drugs and lesbians scene. Well all I liked so no complains and its good to see Jason Biggs in a TV show again after his good performance in The Good Wife.
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If you read the book, you'll see that the prison in the TV show actually looks tougher than the prison Piper Kermam describes. I was shocked that even a minimum security federal prison would be as nice as she described the one where she was jailed in Danbury, CT. The book is a lot different in some ways than the show. I recommend the book to everyone who loves the TV show. I read the book in one sitting. It was fascinating, and you really feel for not only Piper and Larry but also the other inmates. Piper really touches on the futility of trying to rehabilitate drug offenders with lengthy minimum sentences. The only reason her sentence was only 15 months was her willingness to take a plea deal instead of letting her case go to trial.

SPOILER BELOW!

There's also a fascinating section in the book about her experience with Con Air, and because they put Alex (in the book, her name is Nora) in the jail with her, I'm not sure we'll get to see that part of the book (in the book, she ran into Nora in a holding facility during her Con Air migration to Chicago) play out on screen. I hope they work it in somehow, though.
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I LOVE THIS SHOW and Piper :) Orange Is the New Black instantly became one of my favorite series.

Bravo Jenji Kohan - you did it again!
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Also the tampon thing was just ewww!
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At first I thought it was a dead white mouse (because the string looked like a tail), but then I realized what it was and was not as freaked out because, "Hey at least it wasn't a dead bloody mouse"
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When I saw the string I was like "Oh, they put a tampon into her bun. How very middle school of them". And then I realized it's a used one and I felt sick.
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Even when they SHOWED the bloody tampon, I didn't understand what it was. Lol. I had to go back over the scene a couple of times because I thought it was going to be a mouse, too! The first time I saw the bloody tampon, I thought it was a weird piece of bacon, and maybe the mouse was under it. When I finally realized what it was, I was grossed out to the extreme. She almost took a bite of that thing! If they really wanted to get at her, they should have cut off the string so she'd just bite into it without looking.
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Awful. Her demeanor is that of a woman going to girls camp, not prison. The inmates are clown like..not believable at all. Used tampons, maxi pads and the masturbating "guard" we're simply cheap attempts at portraying what the real sadness and horrors of prison are. Did a 14 year old boy write this script? PS. We loved House of Cards!
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Um, based on true events. We can't know what's exaggerated but most of it is probably accurate.
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In all fairness, what is does a real women's prison experience seem like? You hear stories about men's prisons, and that gets depicted a lot in the media, but can we say for sure that this isn't how women locked up for year act?
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Wow, I was home sick and this just happened to drop today, I started watching this morning because the trailer looked good and now here I am at 2:00am having watched every episode...do I even have to even say I LOVED it! Can't wait for season 2.
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I've seen the 1st 2 episodes and I'm liking it, a lot. So far so great IMHO! Touching, funny, intriguing, charming and believable!
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and smart!
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Weeds was so good! Can't wait to watch this
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watched the Pilot and that will be all, very boring!!
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How is any part of this boring?! Even if you don't like the story line or the characters (and I don't understand how that could happen), as a man, maybe you should stick around for the tits and the lesbian sex and see if it gets any better. :)
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sorry not going to happen pilot was uneventful
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This show is completely homophobic. It's really disturbing to me that the producers decided to put in a character who "turned straight"- In real life, gay people do not suddenly turn straight after being completely homosexual.
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You do know this is based on a memoir, right? So your comment about "real life" just makes you look like a complete arse. In "real life" Piper had sexual relationships with both women and men, and at the time she met Larry, she describes herself as a lesbian, which was confusing for the both of them.

The show is not trying to say being gay is bad. There are homophobic CHARACTERS in the show, but the show itself is the furthest thing from homophobic. Even the worst homophobic character, Healy, is cast in a negative light. The show's team deliberately makes him look like a fool for touting the negative aspects of the lesbian lifestyle to Piper, very plainly showing his ignorance to Piper's sexuality. If anything, this show is very sympathetic to the LGBT community.
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She wasn't "completely homosexual" though. She had heterosexual relationships up until she met Alex (the other woman). So if anything she was straight and then turned gay for that one girl she fell for.

However, Piper doesn't even really subscribe to a sexuality. People give her a label (or call her fickle/wispy for not choosing). But, for the most part, she has this attitude of "I fall in love with people, and if that person is a guy then so be it, and if that person is a girl then so be it."
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If anything you comment is backwards. She stated many times that she experimented a little after collage and was a lesbian "at the time." That implies that before and during collage she didn't experiment, unless of course she was a virgin when she fell in love with Prepon's character. So Id think you should be saying that a straight woman cannot just "turn lesbian."
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If anything Piper is bisexual. Also sexuality is a very fluent thing. You can have lesbian relationships all your life and suddenly fall in love with a man - and vice versa.
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Get over yourself, they portray her as a recent college grad who was experimenting and trying to find herself, she doesn't call herself a lesbian, it's the other characters who, in their ignorance think the term applies to any woman who sleeps with another, call her lesbian. Plus this was taken from a real life memoir so your comment about "real life" just shows you're "completely" ignorant yourself.
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It's not as addicting at Lockup, but I like it. It took a bit to shrug off the guy from American Pie (I just see no purpose to him; he's like Seinfeld without...purpose?) and a bit more to shrug off her starting off so foolishly, but I guess she had to.

So it took me two episodes to be sure I liked it, but I do. Captain Janeway's great. It took me a minute to even recognize her. And I like Laura Prepon here.
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I couldn't figure out where I knew Red from! Thank you!
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as Lockup*
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I was largely disappointed with the first one and half episodes for multiple reasons.

first was netflix cramming a starlight update down my throat and wouldn't you know, it's "not compatible with my operating system" probaly some stupid service pack crap or the like, fuck netflix and fuck microsoft. fortunately I have a western digital media player that streams netflix but had to do it on my non hd tv. so if I want to watch in high def on my computer i'll have to find a torrent.

the other reasons include schilling. he completely lacks screen presence imo. the least memorable of anyone introduced so far. as far as the other characters i generally liked a number of them but only so much as I found them all to be pretty bland, middle of the road characters. the dialogue and story really failed to go anywhere.

more of the same old 'strategic nude' crap. why can't women either keep their clothes on or be naked if they're supposed to be naked? first shower scene and blondey had her hair over her chest. second shower scene schilling showed she wasn't going to avoid nudity altogether but i imagine that'll probably be about it from her. her being stripped upon admittance to lock-up scene is of course entirely shot from the shoulders up, makes sense right? and the lyonne / tael stone scene was the most bothersome in this regard. we're supposed to believe lyonne is successfully pleasuring yael orally and still has time to think about covering the woman's chest? not working it mind you, just covering it. pleasuring a woman orally is already like trying to carry an elephant across a tightrope, and she managed to be focused on her friend's modesty and look away to give a smile all while doing it...sure. also yael's the fucking hottest one show her naked PLEASE.

the rest of it I was divided on. I enjoyed reminders of what jail can be like. like sleeping without blankets because yeah especially in a men's lock-up there's no room for weakness. the virtually everybody being nice was just way too far fetched for me though. and the only fight took place over ice cream. i'm not wanting to see anyone shanked but in reality a number of the women would be avoiding eye contact or regretting it if they didn't. unless of course she was sent to club fed.

also i was really hoping for legitimate humor or depth but it liked both entirely IMO. especially for a show without the boundaries of cable where others have still succeeded, it really had no excuse to not be compelling imo. a middle of the road show like it's characters and acting and dialogue and plots is about the nicest thing i can say about it.

two general statements kinda off-topic, prison is where you go for sentences longer than 6 months. and and a great observational line from mystic river that helps convey the the general personal alterations one makes upon having been incarcerated is where a character mentions men never losing the tension in their shoulders after having been inprisoned because pretty much evolutionary like a gorilla beating on it's chest: it's their way of saying don't fuck with me without verbalizing it; to the best of their ability anyway.

if I haven't already said it, i'll keep watching but without expecting to get much from it and maybe it'll even be slowly enough that it'll coincide well with conversations with the reviewer.

*alex wasn't a hallucination*
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You seriously sound like a whiny little snot. And I'm not surprised at all that there are so many people who are commenting here who seem intelligent and educated, and you seem to be exactly the opposite.

As for what would happen in reality, are you aware that this television show is based on Piper Kerman's MEMOIR about being in a minimum-security facility in Danbury, CT? Point in fact, the television show portrays her prison experience in a much harsher light than she herself did. In her book, she continually states how surprised she is by the kindness of the other inmates and all of the creature comforts the facility allows its prisoners. And what on earth does your point about prisons being for those who are sentenced to more than 6 months have to do with anything? Piper is in a federal prison, and her sentence, both on the show and in the book, is 15 months long. In fact, I haven't seen anyone on the show talk about having a prison sentence that is shorter than even hers. So I don't understand what six months has to do with anything. Also, what's the point about the way male inmates act in prison all about? She's in a female prison, again, both in the book and the show. There is a whole paragraph in the middle of your comment that doesn't even make sense because of your obvious lack of knowledge in the areas of grammar and punctuation. I don't know why you don't enjoy the show. My only guess is that perhaps it's a bit above you.
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thanks for replying. "a bit above you." I take it you're not joking? as though a show about a woman in prison has something to teach and I'm not understanding it? it sounds like you're over-estimating your intelligence while underestimating mine.

sure my grammar by way of punctuation sucks. some people excel in one area while lagging behind in another. such is the case with me. but whatever I'm apparently talking to someone bigoted against those who struggled with education during their formative years. and still I'd venture to guess I'm still a lot more capable an individual and more intelligent than yourself. have a nice day and eat a bag of dicks. fucking bitch.
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That's a long reply but I didn't bother to read past you crying about needing to update your Silverlight, or as you call it starlight, player. Ohhh the evilness of Netflix and Microsoft combining to try to keep your software up to date, don't those jerks know you want to keep using windows 98 forever.
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vista, precisely why i don't feel like updating. nothing any update can offer me that i want. but enjoy being a sheeple with a computer likely running like garbage or overpriced. feel free and eat a bag of dicks now, bye!!
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Lol, a guy running Vista talking about not wanting his computer to run like garbage. That is by far the worst iteration of windows software to date.
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4eps in this show is 90% Weeds,10% Oz ..100% New Classic.
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I did enjoy this. And I'm glad I'm apparently not in the far minority as far as Tim bashing all the other Netflix original series'. Arrested Development I think if you look at it as a whole was fantastic, and a great experiment on the full season drop system of delivering shows via netflix. House of Cards was also amazing, although I will admit the ending left a lot to be desired. Hemlock Grove was bad, but bad in a thoroughly enjoyable way (which is weird because Tim you're usually into that. Aren't you the same guy who reviewed The Event and Revolution?)

Anyway, as for THIS show, very good set-up. Shilling did a great job of drawing our sympathy. The casting of Jason Biggs was very-well done; this is the type of role he excels in as the everyman with a big heart. We didn't get to see much of Laura Prepon or Kate Mulgrew, but clearly they will be big parts of the show and I'm a fan of both of them so I can't fault the casting there either.

As for how I will watch it, I'm considering following along with the reviews. I haven't done that yet, and I found with the Arrested Development recaps I lost a lot of interest in the later episode recaps because it had been so long since I saw the episodes (which is a shame because the last episodes were among the best). So I may back out and watch a bunch if I'm bored, but for now I'm on board with two a week and some recaps.
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"House of Card", "Arrested Development" and now "Orange is The New Black" are just amazing! Hemlock Grove was a fail though, I admit it.
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I didn't expect it to be this good. And Tim, House of Cards was a great show, it did not get mixed-to-positive reviews just positive.
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I don't really count Piper's 'privilege' as a sin against her, but I am looking forward to her development. I like her.
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