Ah, the age of binge-watching TV. And what a glorious age it is! What better way to kill a few days’ time than by getting sucked into an addictive show and plowing through a season or two (or three) on Netflix?
Sadly, not every show can be Breaking Bad, and Netflix’s attempts at their own original series have been somewhat trying. While I’ve yet to catch up on the acclaimed House of Cards, I’ve had the—er—pleasure of watching a few episodes of Hemlock Grove and, more recently, Orange is the New Black. People LOVE this show. It’s being lauded about all over the place like FIFA. And like FIFA, I… just don’t get it.
Here’s the situation. A close friend or girlfriend tells you this show’s funny, dramatic, tense, “and plus, hot girls in prison shower scenes!” (The go-to marketing tactic to trick any guy into thinking he’s not watching a show with a target female audience). Indeed, 30 seconds into the first episode, and BAM! Nudity (thanks Game of Thrones for teaching us how to hook an audience—who would have thought it’d be boobs?). But at its core, the show’s pretty much exactly what you think it’s gonna be: a delicate, upper-class white girl is thrown in the mix with a bunch of rag-tag inmates, and “hilarity” ensues. She learns to adjust to life on the inside and maybe cultivates some powerful friendships with people who at first seem scary. Also, Jason Biggs. Ugh.
Fish-out-of water humor is one of the laziest ways to write a show. Oh, the timid, yuppie blond girl light-heartedly compares her prison shoes to fashionable Toms and the guard scoffs at her? HILARIOUS! She accidentally insults the chef’s cooking to her face on the first day in prison? Oh noooo! And it’s not just the jokes that are lazy. There’s a strong Thelma and Louise men-are-evil vibe, which is fine for a show about a women’s federal prison—but as you can expect, all the male characters are cardboard cut-out dumb, bad guy perverts (except the token attractive, sensitive guard who heroically served in Iraq). Then there’s the main character.
Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), is a dainty, straight-laced do-gooder who sells homemade soaps. An appropriate engine for the show’s fish-out-of water setup, sure. But wait, everyone whispers about her wild, danger-loving side! … Which never evidences itself except the time she did that one COMPLETELY over-the-top and out-of-character crime of smuggling drug money, conveniently landing her in prison. Eh, not dangerous enough—she’s also a LESBIAN! Or… she was.
Now she has a fiancée (the insufferable Jason Biggs—yeah, you’ll have to endure him on this show) to fit the cookie-cutter “we are your average, non-threatening husband and wife” archetype. And depending on whatever the show needs him to be, he’s the compassionate support character or the totally uncaring asshole who drives her away. There’s a ridiculous scene in which he cheats on his promise to not watch Mad Men with her until she gets out in 15 months. He flips through the channels, lands on Mad Men, eyes the photo of Piper on the table next to him and turns it away as if he were committing adultery. Come on.
The characters don’t make sense. You can’t have the prim and proper do-gooder also be wild and crazy when the show calls for a convenient plot device. I understand the show is (loosely) based off author Piper Kerman’s experience in federal prison, but from what I’ve read, it takes plenty of liberties with events and characterization. Oh, and did I mention Chapman’s ex-lesbian lover who’s responsible for goading her into committing the crime that landed her in prison—is serving time at the same prison?? Whoa, how unexpected and… totally unrealistic.
Perhaps I’m being too hard on the show. I’m told it’s a very accurate portrayal of the daily grind in a federal prison, so props to the creators for getting the details right. But it’s just so predictable and silly. Maybe I haven’t given it enough time to grow on me. But the thought of making it through 10 more episodes to finish season 1 feels like… well, doing time.