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Orange is the New Black Review: "Pilot" (Episode 1.01)

July 11, 2013  |  1:20pm
<i>Orange is the New Black</i> Review: "Pilot" (Episode 1.01)

Orange is the New Black may be my favorite TV title ever.

I like a title that sets the tone of the series. And, just given the title, we know that Netflix’s newest series, about a woman sent to prison on a decade-old drug trafficking charge, isn’t going to take itself too seriously. I can’t give creator and executive producer Jenji Kohan (Weeds) credit for the awesome title, though. Credit belongs to Piper Kerman, whose memoir of the same name inspired the series.

Taylor Schilling stars as Piper Chapman. After Piper graduated from college, she fell in love with Alex (Laura Prepon), a beautiful woman who just happened to be an international drug dealer. Eventually Piper “became the nice blonde lady” she was supposed to be and moved on with her life. She’s engaged to Larry, an almost too-good- to-be-true guy played by Jason Biggs. She makes luxury soaps and lotions that are sold at Barneys. But Piper’s past caught up with her (Alex made a plea deal that implicated her) and now she must serve a 15-month prison sentence. The kicker—she committed the crime 10 years ago, and the statute of limitations is 12 years. Tough times all around.

Piper’s best friend wonders how she will keep her eyebrows maintained in prison. Piper is vowing to use the prison time to get in the best shape of her life. She’s even read books about prison life to prepare. Though, as her social worker promises her, the prison isn’t like Oz, it’s much worse than she anticipated.

She shares a room with three other women (one played Natasha Lyonne). She learns you can sleep on your bed, not in your bed. And, worst of all, she inadvertently insults Red (played by a nearly unrecognizable and absolutely fantastic Kate Mulgrew) and the kitchen Red runs. Actually, that’s not the worst thing. The worst thing is that as the first episode comes to a close, she realizes that Alex is doing time in the same prison.

Schilling, who previously starred in the short-lived NBC series Mercy and the movie The Lucky One, is perfectly cast. She looks the part, and the role should allow Schilling to stretch more than her previous parts have. Her chemistry with Biggs is fantastic. I totally believed they were a couple completely in love and that Larry would stick by his “felonious former lesbian.” Schilling also is adept at vacillating between the show’s dark humor and the real horror of prison.

The show’s structure of flashing back to Piper’s life before prison works. It sets up an inherent mystery (How did she finally end things with Alex? Why did Alex turn her in?), serves as a nice juxtaposition to her current predicament and keeps the show from being all prison, all the time. The Lost-like format will also work to explore how Piper’s fellow inmates ended up doing time.

My big complaint with the series is the gratuitous nudity. The freedom of being on Netflix means the series can show as much nudity as it wants to. But it doesn’t mean it has to.

Other thoughts on the pilot:
• Love the opening credit sequence. We simply don’t have enough of them these days.
• Was Biggs alluding to American Pie when he referenced his past “webcam horror” and “penis sharing incident?”
• Speaking of American Pie, I hope Biggs and Lyonne have a scene together.

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