Orange is the New Black

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Orange is the New Black (ONB) was one of Netflix's early success series, that ran for 7 seasons, and is well liked by reviewers and viewers (96/82 on rotten tomatoes). While I generally liked the characters and writing, it gets a bit manic, woke and Social Justice preachy in the story. You quickly realize it is just it is just Lesbian Hogans Heroes -- with a darker view of the world, but all the same cynical and slightly bigoted undertones. Instead of being anti-German, it's anti-straight white male patriarch, anti-authority... everyone in power is incompetent or an asshole. The prison is filled with good people that just had a tough childhood and made some bad choices, are mentally ill and not getting treatment, or they are framed victims. It's all societies fault. The story arc is interesting, but the dogma of the writers gets thicker and thicker as the writers try desperately to make you bond to the criminals and empathize with their bad chocies resent the authority protecting society from them (or them from each other), and hate the system as much as they do.

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While it is based on a true story, and there are elements that are interesting and play true to life. (It just clicks as to how people would interact and adapt to confinement). And that's fascinating to me. Then there are other parts that just feel like overdone bias. The memoir it is based on is about 1 year in prison, the series goes well beyond that... and gets more and more hollywooded R-rated sitcom as time goes on. If it's a stereotypical trope, it's going to find it's way in there.

The author Piper was into the LGBT scene before prison, and it feels like a bit of that "how activists see the world" thing. The guards are mostly idiots or assholes, and everyone that doesn't accept the LGBT thing is a homophobic religious nutbag zealot. All the best characters are gay. And so on. Not that I think there's anything wrong with gay (heck, some of my best friends and coworkers are lesbians), it's just heavy handed in how clear the lines are black or white, and I like my entertainment with a little more subtlety than an air raid siren wake up call.

So it's a bit better than regular TV, in that there's a depth and at least it's a semi-fresh story (or at least substories), and you can learn new things that ring true (if you pay attention). I especially like the parts where they're telling the subplots of the individual life events that lead many of the characters to there (where did they go wrong), or how the justice system works (or doesn't work). But then every single one of them has to be a sympathetic story that makes you go, "awe, poor thing. She didn't deserve that". Instead of any of them just being jerks that deserved it or worse. They also get more and more a caricature as the seasons march on.

Thus, some of it is great. Then some of it is shock schlock -- a little gratuitous muff-munching to keep the R rating and the boys interested. (Not that I mind. It's just sometimes distracting). Then it gets back to some personal interest stories and about how it's hard to adapt to knowing too much about everyone else. Then a good plot-line. Then they tap in a few finishing nails with a sledge hammer. And back.

So I like it more than I'm annoyed by it, so far. But it's best when it's just observing people, tells their stories, and how they interact and avoids the preachy. But that's only half the show. Then the other half feels like Hollywood types got ahold of the book and decided to add shit that makes no sense. And I don't know if the real author that had these blind-spots and manic fits that leaked into her book, or this was the shows editors that wanted to spice it up to keep it from just being a documentary (and so wrote-in every politically correct hot-button cliché they could think of).

Season 1 was fresh and interesting. Season 2 gets a bit slower and more absurd. Season 3 is becomes even more heavy-handed with the propaganda. The plotline sort of descends as well, starting with how moderately good people fuck up their lives, to cult leaders/followers and cooking show celebrities end up in prison.

Hogan's Hero's was parody and a commedy, but ONB tries to start out as serious and dark drama. So it's harder to plug your nose at ridiculousness and absurdities. Someone was smuggling people and goods through a drain pipe, then they filled it with a few buckets of cement? They have a mass break-out so they can swim in a lake? There are parts that are circling the drain.

The writing is good on the people interactions, and their backstories are some of the best part. But by season 3 it's like Carl Marx beating you over the head with how he imagines corporations work. You started liking Piper as someone who just did a dumb thing, but the more you get of her, the more the show becomes Breaking Bad: an amoral selfish fuck-up making a series of really bad life decisions, and you grow to like her less over time. If the trajectory continued, by the end of next season, I'll be hoping she gets shivved in her sleep.

So the series is good -- but feels like it could have been better if they had a little less Robin Williams' cocaine induced segues in the story line, and it just stayed truer to a more balanced (less manic) reality. Also, it would have been better to end it sooner, as each season got more absurd. Better to have a short lived mediocre series, than to let Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders keep ghost writing and degrade an almost interesting premise into completely banal tripefest of liberal dogma.

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Written 09/21/2015