Review: A Light Beneath Their Feet

A Light Beneath Their Feet is a story about mental illness and how it affects a family. Taryn Manning and Madison Davenport as mother and daughter turn in impressive performances. Continue reading “Review: A Light Beneath Their Feet”

Orange is the New Black: Finding a Balm for Your Pain

Orange is the New Black season 4 puts viewers through the wringer. Abuse, murder, death, mental illness, surviving rape, corporate greed. It’s dark and horrifying. There are moments of hope, of light. There are ways of dealing. I thought it would good to end my series of posts on the latest season of Orange is the New Black with something brighter. There are spoilers ahead.  Continue reading “Orange is the New Black: Finding a Balm for Your Pain”

Watch This: Trailer for A Light Beneath Their Feet

A Light Beneath Their Feet stars Taryn Manning and Madison Davenport as mother and daughter in a coming-of-age drama about a family coping with bipolar disorder. Also featured is Carter Mark Jenkins as young Beth’s love interest. Continue reading “Watch This: Trailer for A Light Beneath Their Feet”

Orange is the New Black: Pennsatucky and Big Boo

Toward the end of season 2 of Orange is the New Black, we saw the beginnings of a friendship between Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) and Doggett, AKA Pennsatucky, (Taryn Manning). In season 3 it becomes an important relationship for both characters.

Spoilers ahead.

Taryn Manning and Lea DeLaria in the "Mother's Day" episode of Orange is the New Black
Taryn Manning and Lea DeLaria in the “Mother’s Day” episode of Orange is the New Black

It starts immediately in episode 1 of season 3. Pennsatucky mourns all her pregnancies on Mother’s Day as the rest of the prison’s women celebrate with their visiting children. Big Boo comes to sit beside her.

Doggett says she feels terrible about all her abortions. Big Boo launches into a discussion of the book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. In this book there is a discussion about how the passage of Roe vs. Wade, which legalized abortion, lead to a reduction in the crime rate 20 years later. The hidden side of that story – and Big Boo’s point – is that unwanted and neglected children often end up committing crimes and being incarcerated.

This discussion was handled very tactfully and gave some comfort to Doggett, who knew she was a meth head and would have been a terrible mother.

So many back stories in Orange is the New Black are about women who weren’t loved and wanted as children. We see several such flashbacks in season 3.

The “Mother’s Day” episode started Season 3 on a series of character studies about how women in prison deal with motherhood. It shows the social costs of the war on drugs and the devastating effects on families when mothers are locked up because of minor drug charges. This practice only perpetuates a cycle of neglect and is one of the greatest failures of the idea of mandatory sentencing for drug crimes.

According to this article,

. . . six in 10 women in real federal prison are there for nonviolent drug crimes. For every woman who has committed murder there are 99 drug offenders. Almost none of the 99 are international drug smugglers like Alex Vause; most of the women incarcerated for crack cocaine or methamphetamine were caught with less than 100 grams, the weight of an average bar of soap.

Big Boo, Doggett, and Sofia in Sofia's work room
Lea DeLaria as Big Boo, Taryn Manning as Doggett, and Laverne Cox as Sofia in Sofia’s work room

Big Boo and Doggett become each other’s besties. Doggett, in particular, leans on Boo’s strength and wisdom.

Two factors lead to the next part of the story.

  1. Morello lost her job as van driver after Miss Rosa ran off with the van. Doggett is the new van driver.
  2. The prison is purchased by a for-profit company. They reduce the hours of the experienced correctional officers so they can take away their benefits. They hire new and untrained COs to fill the hours.

An inexperienced CO named Coates (James McMenamin) gets the job of guarding Doggett on van drives. He’s a complete moron. Pennsatucky has to tell him how to do his job. He gets her donuts from the other place where he works. They feed day old donuts to ducks and goof off when they should be returning to camp.

We see in a flashback that Doggett really has no idea what love is or how it’s expressed. Nor does she know how loving sexual contact works. She traded sex for goods – including six packs of Mountain Dew – as a teen. She’s confused because Coates gives her treats and tells her he likes her.

Tucky's not home
Tucky’s not home during the rape.

Coates rapes her. Doggett isn’t really sure what happened. She knows she didn’t like it, but Coates brings her a cheap bracelet and she thinks he’s just showing her his love.

When Big Boo figures out what has happened, she delivers some great dialog about consent and force that makes Doggett understand that she was raped. It’s a brilliant scene. Boo brings in a pile of goodies from the commissary, dumps them on Tucky’s bed. When Pennsatucky asks what they are for, Boo says, “I want you to eat me out.” Pennsatucky says, “No, that’s gross.” And Boo defines consent in a completely compelling way that finally makes Tucky get it.

They agree it’s pointless to report Coates. It will be a he said, she said story and they know how those turn out. They decide to drug Coates and take revenge on him by sticking a broom up his ass. When they’ve got him passed out over a table in the laundry with his bare butt exposed, Doggett can’t do it. It may be her first moral decision ever.

Doggett finds a way to escape her duties as van driver, only to see Maritza (Diane Guerrero) given the job. Doggett and Big Boo look at each other in dismay when they see Maritza report to Coates. It will be season 4 before we see what happens with Maritza.

That these two unlikely souls connect is one of the most beautiful aspects of season 3. Doggett is less of a crazy religious zealot after her past experiences, and she’s less homophobic because she sees Big Boo as a person now. Boo is good for Doggett. Their friendship allows for conversations that mean much in terms of what season 3 is about. Lea DeLaria, in particular, gets to deliver some of the best lines of the season during her interactions with Pennsatucky.

Big Boo’s back story is explored in detail in season 3, which gives Lea DeLaria situations where she defends who she is to her parents and to a homophobic world with even more excellent dialog.

Both Taryn Manning and Lea DeLaria deserve recognition for their outstanding performances this season.

On the Corrupting Influence of Power in Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black mixes a lot of serious themes in with all the stories about individual lives and the comedy that the show uses to make its points. The Orange is the New Black theme I want to explore today is power and how it corrupts.

Let’s explore this theme by looking at individual personalities.

Vee can't fool Poussey
Vee can’t fool Poussey

Vee (Lorraine Toussaint) is the most blatantly corrupt user of power. She’s willing to destroy lives without a second thought to maintain her income and her grip on her followers. She recruits people for their weaknesses deliberately, knowing that she’ll want to use that weakness at a later time. Her goal is greed, profit, and purely personal. Her grip on power is not accidental. She works for it.

Figueroa is greedy
Figueroa is corrupt

Figueroa (Alysia Reiner) used her power to steal from the prison system. She didn’t feel she was actually hurting anyone with her misuse of funds. So the prison didn’t have a gym or a classroom – not really a problem, right? She used the money to buy expensive things for herself, but she also used it to promote her husband’s political career and to buy his love. She covered up wrongdoing with lies and rationalizations, but not violence.

Caputo became corrupt almost instantly
Caputo became corrupt almost instantly

Caputo (Nick Sandow) thought he was better than Figueroa. He thought if he could just get her job he would fix all the problems Figueroa created with her embezzlement. Yet his second day on the job he told John Bennett to be quiet about being the father of Daya’s baby and left Mendez in jail thinking the baby was his. He perpetrated this injustice to protect his grip on power. Power corrupts instantly. One day he’s a good guy. The next day he’s part of the problem.

Red's power: lost and found
Red’s power: lost and found

Red’s (Kate Mulgrew) power, when she had it, was almost benign by comparison with the others. Yeah, she starved out Piper for a while, but she didn’t bring in drugs and she didn’t try to cheat anyone. She simply wanted to make life in the prison easier for herself. When she lost power she did something stupid that hurt Gina (Abigail Savage), but it was more of an accident than a disregard for Gina’s welfare. When she thought she could use the greenhouse to regain power she still wasn’t doing anything that hurt anybody. Later, she tried to put an end to Vee but couldn’t go through with it. Red’s saving grace is her weakness.

Pennsatucky wants power for the respect and love it brings
Pennsatucky wants power for the respect and love it brings

Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) is a sad case. She gets violent quickly if she feels disrespected. She wants power because it makes her feel respected and loved. When being the poster girl for the anti-abortion movement went bad for her, she latched on to the idea that she could somehow become powerful as a lesbian because of the the lesbian agenda. She’s dangerous, but not very smart.

The thread that connects every story – prisoners and prison officials – is that the quest for power carries with it corruption, lies, manipulation, and frequent disregard for the good of others. The Ghandis, the Mother Teresas, the characters like Poussey (Samira Wiley) who resist corruption – they are an anomaly. Most human beings, when given power, succumb to the need to keep it no matter the consequences to others.

Whatever message Piper Kerman, the original author of the book Orange is the New Black, or Jinji Kohan, the writer of the TV series, had in mind as they wrote, this is one message I get: prison doesn’t work. The current American prison system doesn’t work. One reason why? Power corrupts.

I didn’t even get into Mendez. How about it? Are there other characters you think make interesting points about power Orange is the New Black?

A First Look at Orange is the New Black, Season 2

This is my overall impression of season 2 of Orange is the New Black. I will talk about performances and high level story lines, without revealing big spoilers. More detailed discussions of particular episodes or events will come later after people have had plenty of time to watch all 13 episodes.

I watched all 13 episodes in two days, and my eyes felt like I’d just finished one of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books when I finally looked up. But the eye strain was worth it.*

The Cast and Credits

The first thing I noticed was who is listed in the main credits. Those people are Taylor Schilling, Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Michael Harney, Natasha Lyonne, Taryn Manning, Kate Mulgrew, and Jason Biggs. These are the names that show up every week. The cast has been shuffled around a bit, some people have moved up into major roles. Other actors, although very important to season 2, are listed in guest roles or are listed after the main titles roll. Samira Wiley as Poussey is a key actor in season 2, and her name should have been up front, in my opinion.

Fan favorite Laura Prepon shows up in only 3 episodes, but the way the season ends it looks like Alex Vause will be back in full force in season 3. Other favorites who are there, but not necessarily for every episode include Laverne Cox, Lea DeLaria, Yael Stone, Selenis Leyva and many others. All the same officers and prison people are still running the place badly, except Pornstache who only shows up in a couple of episodes.

Vee can't fool Poussey
Vee can’t fool Poussey

Lorraine Toussaint, who comes in as a character named Vee, is in 8 episodes. In those 8 episodes she manages to throw the whole prison into quite a state.

In Praise of Brilliant Performances

There are so many brilliant performances in season 2. This is so much of what Orange is the New Black is: a showcase for brilliant talent that we don’t see anywhere else. While that isn’t true of the well-known Lorraine Toussaint, I want to call her out for her performance. She simply stunned in every way.

The cast who’ve been there all along were marvelous again this season. Taylor Schilling, Uzo Adubo, Danielle Brooks and Samira Wiley gave noteworthy performances. Really, everyone in this cast gives a noteworthy performance.

The Backstories

The backstory on each character is what makes us care so much about the women in Litchfield. This season we got more backstory on Piper (Taylor Schilling), Morello (Yael Stone), Sister Ingalls (Beth Fowler), Taystee (Danielle Brooks), Poussey, Miss Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat), Gloria (Selenis Leyva), Suzanne (Uzo Adubo), Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) and Vee.

The Current Story

When the season begins, Piper is pulled from the SHU and taken to Chicago to the trial of the drug kingpin who was Alex’s boss. The trip from one prison to another provides an opportunity for a guest star, something that doesn’t happen often on this show. The guest was Lori Petty. Jodie Foster came back to direct again this season and she directed the Chicago trip episode.

At Litchfield, important plot points in this season are the dangerous conflict between Red (Kate Mulgrew) and Vee, the tension between the pregnant Daya (Dascha Polanco) and the C.O. John (Matt McGorry), the tension between Caputo (Nick Sandow) and Figueroa (Alysia Reiner), and the problems between Healey (Michael Harney) and just about everyone.

Anything you can do I can do better. I can do anything better than you.
Anything you can do I can do better. I can do anything better than you.

There’s a contest between Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) and Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) that leads to lots of funny lesbianing, but hang in there to the end of the season for the best Pensatucky lesbianing laugh of the year. Nicky has serious challenges to face as the season progresses, too.

You did WHAT?
You did WHAT?

Piper gets involved in tracing down corruption and finding proof of embezzled funds while dealing with Larry (Jason Biggs), Alex, a death in the family and more than one huge betrayal.

Morello and Suzanne
Morello and Suzanne

One of my favorite episodes revolved around Valentine’s Day. It revealed so many deep, meaningful insights. Another favorite was an episode where a good bit of the plot dealt with the fact that most of the women were unaware of their female anatomy and the construction of their lady parts in particular. The few who knew enlightened the others in some pretty funny ways.

I’m a ukelele player. I was highly amused by the C.O. (Joel Garland) who played a banjo ukelele while making up songs about nuns and bad mothers. Ukes forever!

The finale was written by Jenji Kohan. It wrapped up some problems, it opened up new problems for next season, and was a terrific way to end the season. It left us wanting more, it satisfied with poetic justice, and it left me convinced that season 3 can’t come soon enough.

*In one scene, Tastee recommends Outlander to Poussey.

Season 2 Casting News for Orange is the New Black – Updated

The latest from Netflix about season 2 of Orange is the New Black is that Lorraine Toussaint was added to the cast as a prisoner named Vee. Lorraine Toussaint was a regular on Body of Proof, Friday Night Lights and Saving Grace, but I love her most of all from Any Day Now. Any Day Now was set in 1960’s Birmingham, Alabama during the height of the civil rights movement. If you haven’t seen it you should look it up and watch it.

Danielle Brooks

Netflix also announced that Danielle Brooks, who plays Taystee will be a regular. Danielle Brooks is fresh out of Julliard. Her career is off to a solid gold start with OITNB and Taystee.

Taryn Manning

Taryn Manning is promoted to being a cast regular as well. The announcement is a bit of a spoiler alert, since it means that Piper didn’t do as much damage to Pennsatucky at the end of Season 1 as we might have thought.

Update 2/1/2014

The news about casting for season 2 announced recently is that Lori Petty from Tank Girl has a part in Orange is the New Black. The name of her character and what part she’ll play in the show isn’t explained yet.

Orange is the New Black: A Winner from Netflix

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.

Taylor Schilling
Taylor Schilling gets stripped searched in episode 1

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.

OITNB poster

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.

OITNB cast
Image via Netflix

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.

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