If you’re unfamiliar with the show Orange is the New Black, allow me to fill you in. Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a well-educated bisexual woman living a simple, law-abiding life in upstate New York has her life flipped upside down when a past crime catches up with her. She then must serve fifteen months in a women’s correctional facility, unknowingly sharing the confines with her drug-smuggling ex-girlfriend, Alex (Laura Prepon). Forced to cope with erratic inmates, sexist prison guards, homophobic counselors and resurfacing emotions, Piper’s life becomes a game of chicken – literally.
The show is unique and groundbreaking for several reasons. For starters, it features a predominantly female cast as opposed to the male-dominated ensembles we’re used to seeing. Not only are there a variety of sexualities explored on the show (bisexuals Piper and Morello, lesbians Alex and Nicky and heterosexual Daya), there is also a variety of races and ethnicities that come into play. In the first episode, Piper is introduced to the prison’s segregated standards, with white women in one bunk, black women in another and Latina women in yet a separate housing unit. In later episodes, an election for the Women’s Advisory Council is broken up by race (whites, blacks, Hispanics and “others”). Exploring race and sexuality isn’t uncommon in modern television, but OITNB does it in such a way that the inmates’ stories resonate with a vastly diverse audience.
Perhaps one of the most groundbreaking aspects of the show is the addition of transgender actress Laverne Cox as Sophia Burset, a transgender woman jailed for committing credit card fraud to pay for her gender-reassignment surgery. Transgender issues have been widely ignored by the general public and the media despite the newfound visibility of actress Laverne, model Carmen Carrera and writer Janet Mock. For a show to not only feature a transgender actress, but to provide her character with true depth and purpose is something not many television shows or films have done so gracefully before. All too often we see a transgender character given a flat storyline, or a storyline that only focuses on their body and whether or not they’ve had surgery. In OITNB, Cox’s character not only deals with issues regarding her transition, but also familial drama, understanding one’s faith and issues of morality.
The popularity and success of the first season, released on July 11, 2013, led to Netflix renewing the show for two additional seasons. Season two is set to be released on June 6 and promises to be one of the most explosive and controversial season premieres of the summer.
Series creator Jenji Kohan, in an interview at this year’s PaleyFest, said, “The mysterious Vee will be introduced as the new inmate of Litchfield Prison, while Alex Vause will be exiting the prison. Laura Prepon, who plays Vause, will appear in only four episodes [this season].” This is upsetting news for Piper and Alex shippers everywhere. But fans will not be disappointed, as Piper is guaranteed to face some pretty hefty drama in the new season. In an interview at PaleyFest, Schilling said, “I think that Piper is in a different situation than she’s ever been in. The circumstances of her life are more extreme than they’ve ever been. So she’s finding new ways to cope, and that’s [bringing] out new sides of her.”
The second season will be released in a similar manner as the first, with all thirteen episodes hitting Netflix at the exact same time. Releasing the season in this manner will allow viewers to “binge-watch” the series from start to finish, a term that was coined after Netflix began creating original series such as OITNB and House of Cards. One hotel in the D.C. area is even providing accommodations for binge-watchers starting around $350. The dedication of OITNB fans is quite possibly unsurpassed by any other fandom.