orange is the new black is back!
Here’s why you need to watch: it’s as addictive as certain inmates’ meth habit and as joyous as a prison release.
The Power Of The True Story
Though the writers have taken a little artistic licence on the detail, the premise of the series - a middle-class woman being sent to prison for drug trafficking offences from her past - is true. Which makes main character Piper's daily struggles all the darker, themoments of brief joy all the more joyous and, right at the start when Piper is preparing to leave her BBQ and her suburbs and her handmade soap, will make you do a brief memory check for anything slightly out-there you did aged 16-25. Just in case you're about to get locked up too.
Lessons in humanity
While season two of OITNB went down a darker path, season three starts with a heartbreakingly human episode; the kind which is atthe core of its brilliance. It's Mother's Day in Litchfield, which means that the inmates' sons and daughters have arrived for a visit. There's light and shade - the kids laugh as they play with the homemade games and scream as their mothers throw themselves to theground on autopilot in response to a prison alarm. One woman sobs as her partner tells her he won't bring their child back to see her anymore, Russian matriarch Red smiles and holds her sons' hands across the table.
"Where's the candy?" one child asks, when the pinata's broken open and found sadly lacking in sugar.
"Oh my gawd," drawls Brook. "This is such a metaphor for their lives."
It's all a reminder of OITNB at its best: the double-underlining of the point that prisoners aren't anonymous numbers or one-dimensional baddy clichés but individuals with back stories, life experiences and sometimes, a large amount of baby poo smeared on their top.
One of OINTB's favourite devices is the flashback. It lets us get to know the inmates more intimately as real people, tells us how they ended up behind bars but also functions as an aesthetic refresher: even the most skilled director would struggle to make the walls of one penitentiary vary visually. Episode one, season three gives us a few non-Litchfield scenes straight away: a glimpse of Nicky's childhood with a mother who loves a Four Seasons breakfast more than her, a teenage Poussey and even some background on morally questionable counsellor Heaney.
The Love Story
No-one would ever describe OITNB as a love story, but there are moments between Piper and her ex-girlfriend, fellow inmate, sometimes lover, Milkshake dance partner, fellow drug mule and oft-nemesis Alex, that are so beautiful it strays very close to becoming one. "It's not hot when your snot drips in my mouth like that," says Piper, as they grab a rare private moment in the prison chapel. "No? It's not your thing?" says a for-once vulnerable Alex, still quipping through her tears. It's far more touching than it sounds.
The Dark Comedy
Evidently, when you base a show in a prison, there will be dark moments, but there is a special skill in finding the humour in those, andOINTB is the master of that juxtaposition. Alex's aforementioned dry one-liners, the lovable eccentricity of Crazy Eyes (sample quote from series three when accused of writing porn: "No it's not just sex, it's love. It's about two people connecting. With four other people… and aliens") and the conversations that could only happen around people who live with each other 24 hours a day and become like sisters, like Taystee and Poussey. Without committing serious spoiler offences, much of season two involves fallouts and shifting allegiances, but when we return for season three, there's a lovely lightness about things. Within reason; they are still locked up for years in a place where people put used tampons in your sandwich. The beauty of moving things away from theantagonism though is that you get so much out of the friendships between the inmates; hilarity, yes, but also genuinely sweet scenes that'll make you think a spell in prison might not be so bad after all.
Orange Is The New Black is available on Netflix from June 12