I just can’t shut up about this series. There’s a lot in it to think about. Social justice, for example.
Orange is the New Black begins each episode with a changing array of mouths and eyes. These are presumably real female prisoners. Here’s what you notice after a while.
Very few of those eyes are blue. Jenji Kohan is showing us this as a fact: very few blue-eyed people end up in prison.
The opening credits aren’t the only place where we must think about racial justice. When blonde and white Piper Chapman, played by Taylor Schilling, arrives at the prison to surrender herself, a guard assumes she’s a visitor, not a future inmate.
When we look at a white person, we don’t see a future jailbird. Put a little color in a person’s skin and suddenly they are a criminal. Have you seen this video?
Jenji Kohan isn’t quite that obvious in Orange is the New Black, but the evidence is there.
In the prison society in Orange is the New Black, the inmates have divided themselves into “tribes.” These tribes are based on race. Yes, there is a tribe of white people. But the women of color far outnumber them.
The prison officials encourage this system of tribes and allow one person from each tribe to be elected to a council of women who are promised some input into how things are run.
Race isn’t the only issue in the hierarchy of inmates. There are class-based hierarchies within the tribes.
There’s a scene between a white guard played by Lauren Lapkus and the main character, Piper. The guard says that she could be where Piper is – she just never got caught for her bad decisions.
When Piper’s mom visits her in prison, she laments the fact that Piper took a plea bargain and didn’t go to trial. Why? Because people who look like Piper are never convicted in a trial.
On Piper’s first day in prison, she meets the prison counselor Jim Healy, wonderfully portrayed by Michael Harney. He suggests to her that there is no logic in how long sentences are. Someone who committed a minor crime might get 4 years, while someone who committed a more serious crime might get 9 months. He doesn’t say this is based on race, but studies that compare sentences based on race point to statistics like this.
Corruption within the prison system itself is portrayed by Pablo Schreiber as Mendez, the guard, and Alysia Reiner as Figueroa. These people are as crooked as the inmates.
Orange is the New Black tells a great story with characters we love. Still, there’s a lot going on under the surface that bears thinking about and talking about. America’s system of justice is under the microscope in this series.
Have you thought about the justice or injustice of what we see about women in prison as you watch this series? Please share your thoughts.
Let’s talk about the supporting actresses in this series. There are so many and they are all so good at telling their character’s particular story. Who’s your favorite?
It’s hard to choose. Every choice is outstanding. I liked Miss Claudette and Sophia and Nicky and Tiffany ‘Pennsatucky’ Doggett and Yoga. And Red – Red is a scene stealer. I liked Kathryn Kates in her tiny but perfect part as Larry’s mother. So many good choices.
But I’m asking you to choose, so choose I must.
I’m going with Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren played by Uzo Aduba.
Crazy Eyes is a multiplicity: bit off the rails, a bit violent, a bit wiser than Solomon, a bit of a poet, and smart, smart smart. Uzo Aduba gives her a certain charm and warmth that I found delightful. She also nailed the requisite crazy looking eyes when needed. Her physicality in this role made Crazy Eyes believable and real.
A favorite episode with her is when Crazy Eyes hears there might be an “acting opportunity” in the prison (a contingent of juvenile delinquents are coming and inmates are asked to talk to them), she marches in and announces, “I want to play a role. Like Desdemona or Ophelia or Claire Huxtable.” She’s smart and funny. When the juvenile delinquents appear, Crazy Eyes does a brilliant reading of some lines from Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Coriolanus.
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in Homeland
Robin Wright as Claire Underwood in House of Cards
Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson in Mad Men
Connie Britton as Rayna James in Nashville
Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Scandal
What a great list. I love all these actresses and all these performances and all these shows.
Well, I can’t stand Mad Men. I lived through the 50s once – I don’t need to suffer all that patriarchy again. But I loved Elizabeth Moss in Top of the Lake so I’m happy she was nominated for that, too.
Claire Danes, Connie Britton, Kerry Washington – I lurve them to bits. And a big Hurrah for Kerry Washington for letting herself be filmed with wet hair in the shower with Tony Goldwin and for being the first African American woman nominated in this category in years. I hope she wins.
But, really TV academy people, Emmy nomination people, where the hell is Tatiana Maslany from Orphan Black? She really should be on that list. She doesn’t have to win, but cripes, she should have been nominated.
She really should.
Like REALLY should.
Are you happy with the Emmy nominations? What’s your particular favorite category of nominees?
I remember the speech Jennifer Beals gave in Break a Leg about how a woman has to be both beautiful and as good as Meryl Streep to make it in the movies. (You can catch the speech at the 8:29 minute mark in this video.) It is generally accepted in American culture that Meryl Streep is the greatest actress since the origin of the human race. We don’t even have to discuss it – we’ve seen her prove it time after time.
So when you see a great performance, it’s easy to compare the actress’s talents with Meryl Streep. For example, I remember watching Toni Collette in The United States of Tara and thinking, Why have I never noticed how amazing Toni Collette is – she could rival Meryl Streep.
I’m telling you right now that if Streep was a verb, Tatiana Maslany streeped the hell out of Orphan Black. Here’s the trailer for season 1 of this BBC America series, which started in 2013.
This is the preview for season 2.
Here’s the preview for season 3.
Tatiana Maslany is a young Canadian actress who had quite a few roles before she got this part in Orphan Black, but her career will never be the same after this performance. She is simply electrifying.
Orphan Black is a clone story. A nature vs. nurture story. Maslany plays all the clones. You sometimes see her on the screen in two or three personas at the same time. She’s so good at making them unique that you don’t even get confused about who is who – you willingly accept them all as different women. The central character in this web of clones is Sarah Manning. She’s the criminal you saw in the trailer who steals the purse of her look-alike, moves into her flat, and attempts to live her life long enough to empty her bank account. This scheme drags out into a hellish impersonation as Sarah attempts to be a cop named Beth Childs. In season 1, Maslany played at least 7 different clones.
As Sarah gets pulled further and further into Beth’s life she discovers more women who look just like her. She doesn’t immediately realize they are clones – does she have a twin, is she a triplet? Nor does Sarah grasp the implications of what it all means. As various clones are killed off – one assumes by the person who created them – it becomes clearer what danger they are all in. They begin to work together to solve the mystery of who they are, why they are, and what they can do to protect themselves.
The clones include the wild-haired Helena, Cosima a brainy scientist who is a lesbian and Alison, a soccer mom. The other clones don’t show up as often. Helena is a wild animal on the prowl, dangerous and unpredictable. Cosima is trying to work out the genetics of the clones and why some of them (including her) are suffering from respiratory ailments. Alison is hilarious as the uptight suburban wife with undiscovered depths. They look different, sound different, move differently, carry themselves differently. There’s no mixing them up.
Jordan Gavaris plays Sarah’s foster brother and her best friend and confidant. His quips provide some of the comic relief. He gets deeply involved in the danger and adventure as the story unfolds.
Maria Doyle Kennedy is the mysterious foster mother, Mrs. S, who raised the two foster children. She is also the guardian of Sarah’s young daughter and has the power to keep Sarah from seeing her child. We are never sure if Mrs. S is good guy or a bad guy.
Dylan Bruce is Beth’s boyfriend, and possibly something else. He realizes after finding Sarah in Beth’s apartment and boinking her on the kitchen counter that she isn’t Beth, but he goes along with the whole thing without letting Sarah know he’s on to her. Assorted ex-boyfriends and bad guys fill out the cast. Inga Cadranel, who is Bo’s mother in Lost Girl, plays one of the cops. A favorite of mine, Matt Frewer – Max Headroom himself – shows up near the end of season 1. I won’t spoil it for you as to what his part in the cloning story is, but he is a key character.
Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan in “The Fall.” Image via BBC Two.
I’m a mystery fan. Aside from the highbrow stuff I read for my book clubs, I almost always pick a mystery for my personal reading. Watching The Fall is like reading a good mystery.
The Fall is a BBC Two production, available on Netflix. It was first broadcast on BBC Two in May of 2013. The two leading characters are played by Gillian Anderson from The X Files and Jamie Dornan from Fifty Shades of Grey. Anderson is Stella Gibson, a police detective on the hunt for Dornan as serial killer Paul Spector.
Here’s the BBC Two trailer.
It’s a large cast with a number of excellent actors, including Archie Panjabi who plays a motorcycle riding medical examiner. Season 1 has 5 episodes. We know who the killer is from the beginning, but Gibson only gets a glimpse into who it is by the end of episode 5. Season 2 is coming in 2014.
It’s the Pacing
Pacing is the key to this series and the reason it feels like reading a good book as much as it does like watching a TV show.
Everything is revealed in meticulous unhurried detail. The killer’s hunt for prey, his crimes, his attention to detail and his slow slide into carelessness as the pressure builds while the police come closer are all given to us in logical slivers and slices. Jamie Dornan is superb as a loving dad who is hides his killing from his family and co-workers. He comes off as a completely nice guy who is absolutely beyond suspicion to those who think they know him.
Netflix released this trailer for the series.
Gillian Anderson stuns as a Detective Superintendent who gives orders to a whole raft of men of lesser rank. She plays her part with stoic brilliance. Occasional glimpses into her thinking or emotions both reveal and conceal. She’s strong and wields her power quietly but emphatically. If Gibson catches Spector in season 2, I hope there will be additional killers for this Detective to hunt, because Stella Gibson is a strong character, and Anderson makes the most of her. I want more.
Of Similar Minds
The detective and the killer are of very similar minds. They think in the same way, they problem solve in the same way. They are both smart and intuitive. The only difference is that they take these qualities in themselves and use them in different ways – one character for good, the other for evil. In the Netflix trailer above, we see Gibson staring into space as she quietly and brilliantly gets inside the mind of the killer and paints a profile of his needs.
We see the psychological similarities between cop and murderer as the story of the hunt for victims and the hunt for the killer unfold side by side in parallel sequences and mirrored actions. I love the way this story is told. It makes you ponder the thin line between good and evil.
Gillian Anderson is in her 40s now and more beautiful than ever. As Stella Gibson, she dresses in gorgeous suits and attractive silk blouses. Detective Gibson isn’t above unbuttoning the blouse a bit to attract attention if it will help her solve the crime. You can enjoy The Fall just for the gorgeous, even if you don’t like mystery stories.
If you don’t have Netflix, you may be able to catch some episodes of this series on the BBC iPlayer. (They aren’t always available there.)
I just finished the last episode of season 1 of Orange is the New Black. It’s a women in prison comedy/drama. My thought as I watched the last few seconds of the stunning season conclusion was, “Please let there be 1000 more episodes of this show.” It’s that good. It’s been renewed for another 13 episodes in season 2, so that only leaves 987 that I’ll be wanting. The first season of 13 episodes runs from September to December in the story of one year in prison, so 3 seasons of equal pacing might be more realistic to expect.
Orange is the New Black is a a Netflix original, created by Jenji Kohan of Weeds. I loved Weeds and I love Orange is the New Black. Apparently I am a huge Jenji Kohan fangirl. Kohan takes characters who are flawed, vulnerable, maybe a little off, often of questionable moral inclinations and she makes me care about them. Her characters aren’t Hannibal Lector, but they aren’t Mother Teresa either. They fall somewhere in between those two extremes, in a place where most of humanity struggles to get through the day.
Orange is the New Black stars Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman. The series is based on the book Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman. Piper Kerman and her TV self Piper Chapman are blonde, pretty, perfect WASPs who should be successes in life, and who don’t expect to find themselves figuring out how to survive in a prison.
Other well-known actors appearing in the series include Jason Biggs as Larry Bloom, Piper’s fiancee. Laura Prepon is Alex Vause, Piper’s lover from a decade ago. Alex was a drug smuggler and the reason Piper is in prison all these years later. And, oh yeah, Alex is in the same prison. Kate Mulgrew is Red, an inmate who runs the kitchen in the prison. Pablo Shreiber is a corrupt and cruel guard. Michael Harney plays the prison counselor. Natasha Lyonne is one of the inmates.
This is a big cast, the names I mentioned above are ones you may recognize. I feel like I should list the name of every single cast member because every performance is outstanding. Michelle Hurst, Taryn Manning, Samira Wiley, Uzo Aduba, Laverne Cox, Dascha Polanco, Matt McGorry – I didn’t mean to start listing them, but I can’t help it. And there are more names that should be applauded. Every character in this ensemble has a story, makes a real contribution, and every actor in the ensemble produces brilliant work. The acting is true, believable, powerful and at least 85% of the reason the series is so good. The other 15% goes to great writing. My math must be a little off, because I think there should be some percentage given for directing and costuming and set design and that Regina Spektor song at the beginning of every episode. Well, okay, I’ll say that the acting is at least 50% of the reason why this series is so good.
Can you give an entire cast an Emmy for best supporting actress?
A Few Mild Spoilers
Orange is the New Black is both a comedy and a punch-in-the-gut drama. There are a few laugh out loud moments and some running gags that will make you smile. A favorite running gag was the woman who was crying on the phone next to Piper each time she made a phone call. One scene where everyone in the cafeteria stood up and started dry humping everything in sight had me rolling on the floor.
There were moments of cruelty, fear, pain, and brokenness. There were moments of insight. There were moments of love. There are thieves, drug dealers and murderers – and those are just the people in charge of running the prison. There is fornication, masterbation, revenge, overdosing, insanity, sanity, rage, delusion and denial, pragmatism and surprising beauty. Storylines include race politics, religious politics, prison politics, uses for screwdrivers, Shakespearean recitations, and good hair. In short, this series has multitudes to offer and a cast that is capable of delivering it.
Our pretty blonde WASP princess heroine is afraid of everyone at first but soon finds that the women in prison are just like her. She finds people to respect and admire, and to like, which surprises her a bit. Taylor Schilling goes all out in this part. You can be sure there’s plenty of drama and tension involving in getting from fear to admiration.
There is love and relationship drama. With sex. Within the first 30 seconds of episode 1 we see Piper having lesbian shower sex with Alex and straight bathtub sex with Larry. Seems these two super clean moments were flashbacks to happier times as Piper takes her first prison shower, which wasn’t nearly as much fun.
Flashbacks are used often to reveal more about the characters. We see into their childhoods, meet the parents (or lack of parents), see the abuse or the quest for drugs, and learn about the crimes that brought each one to the prison.
One thing I liked about the flashbacks was that the actors could look more like we normally see them. In the prison garb, with no makeup, horrible hair, and possibly awful prosthetic teeth it was a little hard to match up actors faces with the images on imdb.com for the cast. (I do have a tendency to look at cast bios and photos while watching a show.) It took me nearly all 13 episodes to figure out that Taryn Manning was the person playing the crazed Jesus-freak character. That was partly because I could never catch her character’s name and partly because she looked so crazy-scary in the role. Damn, was she good, too.
Laura Prepon never looked bad. Not once. She had blonde hair in Are you There, Chelsea?. She’s been a redhead in some shows. She has black hair here and big black glasses. Her hair never seems to be stringy or wild and she doesn’t need makeup to be stunning. Which partly explains why Piper can’t stay away from her and we have the lovers triangle of Piper, Larry, and Alex through most of season 1. Larry, so straight and normal out there waiting in the real world – Alex, so gorgeous as she offers up her very warm body right here inside the walls. What’s a girl gonna do? I cast my vote for team Alex, drug smuggler though she is. Alex seems to love Piper with a beautiful eternal flame that makes poor Larry’s conditional acceptance pretty lame by comparison. If you’ve read the book and know how this all turns out, don’t rain on my team Alex parade, okay?
Netflix and Original Series
Netflix released House of Cards with Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as its first original series. It was superb and I look forward to a second season of that series. Their second attempt Hemlock Grove was so bad I couldn’t watch it. They were 1 for 1 when this series came out, so I was unsure which way it was going to go.
Netflix struck gold once again with Jenji Kohan and Orange is the New Black. More like this please, Netflix.
Your turn. What do you think about Orange is the New Black?
Image Credits: Netflix.
Disclosure: The link to Amazon is an affiliate link.
If you’ve never heard of Lost Girl you are already 3 seasons behind. Get yourself over to Netflix or Hulu, the SyFy channel in the U.S. or Showcase in Canada. Make an effort to catch up before season 4 begins in 2014.
The cast, left to right, front row: Richard Howland, Anna Silk, Zoie Palmer. Back row Ksenia Solo, K.C. Collins and Kris Holden-Ried. Photo from SyFy.
The Fae, the Succubus, and the Key Cast Members
I’ll summarize the pilot and try to explain what the show is about in hopes of getting you hooked so we can compare notes on plots and characters.
The show is set in a world where a race of people called Fae share space with humans. Fae feed off humans in various ways while trying to remain hidden from human society. Fae feed off humans by stealing their sexual energy, rage, or grief. They can also feed on human luck, talent, vengeance or actual human corpses.
Once you’ve accepted the basic premise of the show – Fae and human in the same world – you find the Fae world populated with wonderful characters, all based on mythology, such as mesmers, shape shifters, sirens, furies, will-o-the-wisps, blood kings, Baba Yaga, Gorudas, nagas, fairies, brownies and, most importantly, a succubus in the form of the show’s namesake, Lost Girl.
The lost girl is Bo Dennis, played by Anna Silk. She was raised by humans and only discovers at the show’s beginning that she is a succubus – hence, she’s been “lost” for years. A succubus feeds off sexual energy. Bo has been doing that since she went through puberty, but she doesn’t know what she is or how to control her need for sexual chi so she’s left a string of dead lovers behind and considers herself a murderous monster.
In episode one, Bo rescues a street-wise young human, Kenzi, played by Ksenia Solo, who becomes Bo’s sidekick. In the process of saving Kenzi, Bo drains the life out of a predatory asshole who gave a ruffie to Kenzi. The life-draining succubus kill leads to the involvement of two Fae cops who realize the dead guy was killed by a Fae. The cops are Dyson, played by Kris Holden-Ried, and Hale, played by K.C. Collins. The cops catch Bo and take her to see The Ash, the head of one clan of the Fae.
There are two clans of Fae: light and dark. The Ash asks Bo to declare herself as either light or dark. She refuses. This refusal to choose a clan endures throughout future episodes and is an important part of many plot lines and of Bo’s character. (She’s not following anyone’s rules but her own, which are influenced heavily by human values such as loyalty, a sense of justice, and a great capacity for love. These values are not always compatible with Fae life.)
The Ash realizes that Bo doesn’t know she’s Fae. He sends her to Lauren Lewis, played by Zoie Palmer. Lauren is a human doctor who is in service to The Ash and is immediately attracted to Bo. To be fair, everyone is immediately attracted to Bo, but Lauren’s attraction becomes important to the storyline. Lauren explains to Bo that she is a succubus and that she doesn’t have to kill the people with whom she has sex. This is welcome news to Bo; she is more than ready to learn to control her hunger for sexual chi.
As a first step in introducing Bo to the Fae world, Dyson takes her to meet Trick, played by Richard Howland, who at this point seems to be merely the owner of a Fae pub or way station.
Now we’ve met all the key characters in the cast and know that the trajectory of the show will deal with Bo’s journey of self-discovery. We also get the sense that Dyson and Trick were expecting her to show up and there are a lot of secrets involving this particular succubus.
Overarching story lines from season to season involve Bo’s hunt for her biological parents and her efforts to understand herself and her role in the Fae world. Bo and Kenzi declare themselves investigators so plot lines for individual episodes often revolve around Bo solving cases or fighting evil for the Fae, for the cops, or for people she cares about. Plots are also heavy with story lines about Bo’s sex and/or love life. When she discovers she can have sex with Dyson, the Fae cop, without killing him, she goes on a several-episode-long Dyson binge. She’s a succubus, after all. For a while the show promoted the love-triangle aspects of Bo/Dyson/Lauren and people were signing up as Team Dyson or Team Lauren shippers.
Even though Bo and Kenzi have many a conversation about Bo’s love life, this series easily passes the Bechdel Test. To pass the Bechdel Test, a show must at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The great majority of movies and TV shows cannot pass this test. Lost Girl has many female characters, not just one who is there as an appendage to a man. Bo and Kenzi do talk about Dyson quite a lot, but they also talk about Lauren a lot, as well as about whose turn it is to fold the laundry, or which weapons to take to a battle to save the world, or the proper pizza toppings, or how easy it would be to get a new leather jacket by using your succubus charms on the sales clerk. There are lots of things to talk about when you’re a fully developed character.
It’s funny. There’s a joke for everything. Ksenia Solo is brilliantly hilarious as Bo’s sidekick and is the perfect comic relief. Everyone on the show can be funny, but Kenzi gets in the best zingers week after week. Kenzi may be ultra loyal to her favorite seductress, but that doesn’t prevent her from calling Bo names like “wonder snatch.” Kenzi is creative with the insults, for example, “Tell me, your name isn’t Dickface, King of the Douchebags, is it?”
It’s sexy. Anna Silk is the perfect succubus. She’s voluptuous, with cleavage that should be listed as a cast member. She can really bring the sexy when she needs to, which is often. She dresses in skin tight black leather and vests with low, low, low necklines. She can look stunningly sexy just leaning against a wall. The beautiful thing about the sexy on this show is that it’s not judgmental. Bo might be with a man, or a woman, or a man and a woman and there’s never any discussion about her location on the gender identification scale or any hint that it even needs to be discussed. The characters who land in bed with Bo are equally adept at selling the passionate that the succubus brings out in them.
Everybody gets to be sexy. Yes, Bo is the succubus, but she’s not the only sex object. Dyson has his shirt off in nearly every episode and his “junk” is a much discussed topic. In one episode, Bo drinks a toast to “Dyson’s wang.” In another, when she’s mad at him, she suggests she should have bitten it off when she had the chance. In another episode, Kenzi and Dyson change bodies via some Fae magic and Kenzi celebrates her new form by checking out Dyson’s package. (Kris Holden-Ried is a superb actor, but when he is being Kenzi inside Dyson’s body he’s absolutely brilliant!) Then there’s the topic of K.C. Collins’ (Hale) abs – all I can say is “Wow.” Richard Howland, who plays Trick, is a little person. In Lost Girl, the little people get to smooch it up as much as their taller friends. This isn’t the kind of show where only the perfectly beautiful people manage to find love.
It’s kick ass. The women get to kick ass, not just the guys. Bo can toss an evil character up against a wall with a mere flick of the wrist. Kenzi gets in her licks, too. In season 3, a new Fae cop, played by Rachel Skarsten, joins the regular cast. Tamsin is tough and cynical and definitely kick-ass. Many of the recurring cast members are kick-ass awesome as well.
The acting is superb. This is a Canadian show – most of the actors are Canadians that I had never heard of before I started watching. So I’m getting to know a whole raft of new names and faces. Very talented new faces. None of them ever strike a false note, they all can bring emotional depth to their parts. Anna Silk, in particular, seems able to show everything from fear to pain to regret to vulnerable to tears to joy. She can be drunk, be adolescent, be wise, be tough, be warm, be cold. Everyone in the cast is top-notch and they give us characters we can care about. Ksenia Solo won a Canadian award for best supporting role on Lost Girl.
The writing is terrific. I’ve already mentioned that it’s funny, but it’s more than that. The dialog is smart. The plot lines and character arcs hang together from week to week – something you cannot say about many shows. Character development makes sense, people don’t just completely switch personalities from one season to the next as I’ve seen happen on other shows. Foreshadowing isn’t a false lead, it really means something. If you’re going to buy in to a supernatural world populated by pixies and werewolves, the writing better be convincing and true. This is.
The lead character is female. There is more than one important female character: Bo, Kenzi, Lauren, Tamsin and some of the recurring characters are female. The men are there, too: Dyson, Hale, Trick and some recurring male parts. But there’s a balance, an equality between male and female. This is a rare and wonderful quality in a TV show.
The costumes, effects, and sets rock! Anne Dixon is the main costume designers. She’s created a wonderful world here with just clothing and it looks so right. There’s a kind of steampunk fairyland quality to some of the sets and props that looks very convincing and makes the world of the Fae more believable. At other times it looks like early Bilbo Baggins. The special effects include everything from flaming eagles to shape shifting. It all works together to create an authentic world for the Fae.
Yep, I love Bo. I love Kenzi. I love Bo with Dyson. I love Bo with Lauren. Go watch Bo in action and see if you don’t love her too. If you’ve watched Lost Girl, tell me what you think of the show.
When season 4 begins, I’ll be in Bo’s thrall on Lost Girl once again.