Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Why am I talking about "Orange is the New Black" on an education blog? Because it's so reminiscent of the teacher's lounge

The Netflix series "Orange is the New Black" could share plot ideas with a series about the teacher's lounge and the school district office. Sometimes it's all about whether or not you get caught and whether your lawyer is being paid from a school district budget.

This sounds just like the schools I taught at:

"When Piper goes through her first day — meeting her bunkmates, going to the cafeteria — every step is tricky. If she befriends the wrong person or says the wrong thing (which she does, a lot), the consequences can be severe."

Piper Kerman, the real life Piper Chapman

‘Orange is the New Black’ is the best TV show about prison ever made
By Dylan Matthews
Washington Post
July 17, 2013

After the twin disappointments of House of Cards and Arrested Development‘s fourth season, Netflix has hit it out of the park with Orange is the New Black. I finished binge-watching the first season last night, and for my money it’s one of the best dramas on the air right now, up there with Mad Men, The Americans, and Breaking Bad.

Created by Jenji Kohan of Weeds fame, the show is about Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a yuppie living in New York City with her fiancĂ© (Jason Biggs) and trying to get an artisanal soap business off the ground. However, Chapman used to date an international drug smuggler (Laura Prepon), and transferred cash for her a few times. That past catches up with Piper and she ends up with a 15 month sentence in a federal prison in Litchfield, NY — a prison where Alex, her drug-smuggling ex, is also doing time.

The show’s based on the memoir of Piper Kerman, who really did date a drug smuggler and really did end up in prison for 15 months as a result. So the basic plot isn’t totally unrealistic. But are women’s prisons in general much like Litchfield as portrayed in the show?..

Laughs And Drama Behind Bars With 'Orange Is The New Black'
July 16, 2013

Netflix's original series Orange Is the New Black has two important TV predecessors. One is HBO's Oz, the 1997 men-in-prison drama from Tom Fontana that paved the way for HBO's The Sopranos. The other is Showtime's Weeds, which in the fourth season put one of its central characters behind bars.

The creator of Weeds, Jenji Kohan, clearly enjoyed the idea of a women's prison as fertile ground for both comedy and drama. With Orange Is the New Black, she goes back behind bars, but in a way that's more ambitious — and ultimately more impressive — than Weeds.

Weeds was played mostly for laughs. Oz was so serious, and so ominous, it was scary. Orange is somewhere in between. Some of it's funny, but some of its scenes and many of its characters stick with you.

The series is based on a memoir by Piper Kerman, whose character in Orange is named Piper Chapman. Each episode contains flashbacks that provide insight into the past of a different character — a structure familiar from Lost, and, before that, from Oz. But while the flashbacks are intriguing, and increasingly surprising, it's the scenes set in the present, as Piper enters the prison system, that really draw you in.

Taylor Schilling, whose only other significant TV role was as Nurse Veronica on NBC's Mercy series four years ago, stars as Piper. She displays more than enough vulnerability to elicit our empathy, even though she is indeed a criminal. (Though in these days when we end up rooting for the likes of Tony Soprano and Walter White, Piper hardly seems in the same league.)

On her first day in prison, Piper meets her assigned counselor, Sam Healy, played by Michael Harney. Fans of Weeds may remember him as that show's Detective Mitch. He looks over her file, curious as to how a well-to-do 32-year-old white woman ended up in jail.

When Piper goes through her first day — meeting her bunkmates, going to the cafeteria — every step is tricky. If she befriends the wrong person or says the wrong thing (which she does, a lot), the consequences can be severe. We, as the audience, are taken along, experiencing the same steep learning curve.

By the third episode, we're as familiar with the nightly head-count routine as Piper is — and by the end of these 13 episodes, we not only know all the characters in this very large, very diverse ensemble comedy-drama, we feel for them, too. And that's quite an achievement.

The cast is so large that singling out only a few for specific praise is tough. But the two biggest names in Orange Is the New Black deserve credit for embodying characters that shatter the memories of their most famous TV roles. Kate Mulgrew, who played Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager, is almost unrecognizable, and absolutely riveting, as Red, the proud Russian inmate who runs the commissary. And Laura Prepon, as Piper's former drug-smuggling lover, obliterates all traces of the sweet Midwestern teen she played on That '70s Show...

But when I watched all of the first season of Orange Is the New Black, I wasn't just binge-viewing. I was binge-reviewing. And my verdict, after all that, is that Netflix has indeed done it again. After House of Cards and Arrested Development, Orange Is the New Black is the outlet's third triumph this year.

Smith graduate Piper Kerman was bored with her middle class life — so she joined a group of bohemian artists-turned-drug smugglers. After traveling to exotic resorts and smuggling a suitcase packed with drug money from Chicago to Brussels, she broke free from the drug trade and found a new life, normal jobs and a blooming romance.

But 10 years later, federal officers knocked on her door. Kerman pleaded guilty to drug smuggling and money laundering and went on to serve time in a federal women's prison in Danbury, Conn.

In her memoir, Orange Is The New Black: My Year In A Women's Prison, Kerman recounts a year in which she learned to clean her cell with maxipads, to wire a light fixture, and to make prison cheesecake — all while finding camaraderie with women from all walks of life.

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