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‘Orange is the New Black’ is breaking boundaries and changing television

Hilary Legge, ‘Doah Managing Editor
September 4, 2013

'Doah photo courtesy of 'Orange is the New Black' Facebook page.

‘Doah photo courtesy of ‘Orange is the New Black’ Facebook page.

There has been a shift in the way people watch TV over the last few years. It has become increasingly popular to “binge watch” television series, and with the rise of internet streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix, it has also become incredibly easy to do so. It’s no surprise really, when you consider that this allows you to avoid all those pesky commercials and the week to week wait for new episodes.

As the power of Nielsen ratings continues to decline, with more and more people watching their favorite shows online, Netflix decided to crank it up a notch and begin producing their own original programming. On Feb. 1, 2013, Netflix released “House of Cards,” a political drama from acclaimed director David Fincher.

The company went against all of the conventional rules of television by ordering an entire season without a pilot, releasing all the episodes at one time and withholding ratings. The gamble paid off as the series was deemed a success by critics and has since been nominated for nine Primetime Emmy Awards.

Netflix’s next big move was to release the long-awaited continuation of the cult-hit “Arrested Development,” garnering them even more pop culture goodwill.

Most recently, Netflix released the first season of “Orange Is the New Black.” The show, based off a book of the same name, follows an upper-middle class New Yorker named Piper Chapman as she adjusts to life in a women’s prison.

From the description the show seems as though it could turn out as a “Hollywoodized” version of prison: the nice white lady goes to prison and is surrounded by outrageous, stereotyped criminals.

However, thanks to the freedom of not having to conform to network censors, the show is actually very honest and endearing. Created by Jenji Kohan, who also created the Showtime series “Weeds,” the show establishes a rich world full of well-developed characters.

Not having censors gives the series the same freedoms other subscription-based services have, such as HBO and Showtime. This means there is of course, a solid amount of profanity, nudity and sex on the show. However, “OITNB” is taking that freedom even further and using it to do something ground-breaking.

Unlike anywhere else in television, this show is made up of a large, ensemble cast that is almost entirely female. Not only that, but it is a female cast of women of all different races, sexual orientations and body types. One of these characters is even a transgender woman, played by an actual transgender actress.

The lead character of Piper is also one of the best female anti-heroes to have ever come along. While we so often seem to be eternally forgiving of our Walter Whites and our Don Drapers, the public does not often let complicated, flawed female characters off so easy. Taylor Schilling’s portrayal of Piper gives us a thoroughly entitled and selfish character that you can’t seem to stop yourself from rooting for.

Everywhere you turn it seems as though someone is talking about this show. It is utterly entrancing and compelling. It also took the door that Netflix opened when they started original programming and blasted it completely off the hinges.

“Orange Is the New Black” is quite possibly the best show of 2013, and the fact that it never aired on network or cable television is rather telling of the way TV is changing.

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