Netflix has already received its share of praise for original content, paving the way with House of Cards and the latest season of Arrested Development. But while both of those Netflix originals took cues from series already in existence (House of Cards was adapted from the British series by the same name), the latest binge-able Netflix craze drew its inspiration from the memoir of Piper Kerman detailing her time in a women’s prison. While there’s plenty of NSFW content in the series that is sure to raise eyebrows and warrant comparisons to HBO, there’s plenty of reason to get hooked on Orange Is The New Black.
1. “Based on a True Story”
Let’s face it, when you’re sitting down for Netflix-binge, you have time to kill (or tasks to continue putting off, whatever). One of the best parts of embarking on an OITNB marathon is that you subsequently have countless hours of internet fun ahead of you as you peruse articles about the real Piper Kerman and love interest Larry Smith.
2. Taryn Manning
One of the most distinctive and fascinating characters to watch on OITNB is Pennsatucky, whose distinctive persona is rivaled only by Crazy Eyes (Also, if you haven’t tuned in yet, there are characters named Pennsatucky and Crazy Eyes—so there’s that) and renders actress Taryn Manning almost unrecognizable. From the first glimpse of Appalachian meth-addict-turned-Jesus-preaching Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett, Taryn Manning takes on the character with everything from her speech patterns to her posture, humanizing one of the show’s least likable roles and creating a memorable, meme-worthy persona. She’s not crazy; she’s chosen.
3. Subtle Nods to Cast Members’ Pasts
OITNB is chock-full of familiarity, whether you’re a die-hard Weeds fan tuning in for the latest dose of Jenji Kohan’s genius or a Jason Biggs devotee seeking a fresh slice of sexual awkwardness à la American Pie. These draws aren’t lost on the director, who weaves in several under-the-radar nods to the stars’ pasts. Listen closely for Biggs’ reference to “the penis-shaving incident,” meta moments where Weeds is playing on the television, and even a poorly received Star Trek reference with Red (Kate Mulgrew), who sharp-eyed viewers might recognize as Captain Janeway from the popular sci-fi series.
4. Dynamic Characters
Arguably, OITNB’s biggest strength is the way that Kohan allows characters to develop over the series’ 13-episode span. You’d be hard-pressed to find a one-dimensional character on the show as it slowly reveals the previous hardships that made each prisoner the person she is in prison. Crazy Eyes may urinate on the floor to mark her territory, but don’t be surprised if in the next scene she’s reciting Shakespeare or revealing her vulnerability with open questions about acceptance from the other women.
5. It’s Not a Pity Party
Piper doesn’t spend the entirety of her stay highlighting the differences between her WASP-y background and the pasts of her peers, but ultimately focuses on the similarities. Piper’s tough-talking ex-lover Alex (brilliantly played by Laura Prepon) is quick to point out Piper made her own decision to break the law, however love-struck she may have been. As the show develops, we see more and more characters drawing attention to the fact that oftentimes one small action (or, perhaps, getting caught for one small action) is the only thing separating the inmates from their oft-tyrannical jailers.
6. Humor to Taper the Drama
The show may tackle big issues like racism, homophobia and drug addiction, but well-timed humor cuts up the intensity, allowing potential binge-watchers to immerse themselves in the women’s prison without emerging from the experience feeling hopelessly depressed themselves. Swift one-liners and situational humor get laughs without trivializing the struggles of the inmates, a feat that few television series achieve.
7. Strong Female Relationships
OITNB may be getting attention for its no-holds-barred look at female sexual relationships, but those are far less notable than the variations of friendship and power dynamics between the female characters. Red rules the kitchen like a dictator but mends addicts with motherly tough-love. Miss Claudette keeps to herself with (unintentional?) quiet intimidation, but small moments of kindness provide hints at a bigger story. Sophia, a transgender woman with a wife and a child in her former life, forms a unique bond with an older nun; guard Fischer expresses her ability to relate to the prisoners, and the other array of startlingly deep bonds between women make up the most complex part of the show.