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ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK Needs To Decide If It’s Comedy or Drama…

I’ve spent the last week binge watching the new season of Orange is the New Black.

With each episode my feelings towards the show are growing increasingly conflicted.

There’s certainly something very compelling about the characters, but the incongruity with the tone of the various storylines has become too jarring to ignore.


OITNB clearly wants to be both comedy and a drama (though for awards purposes episodes are submitted as comedy), and that results in plots that border on slapstick while others are gravely serious. That’s not to say that you cannot do both, but the comedy is taken to such an extreme that it seems like the show really has nothing of substance to say no the prison system and the people who are part of it.

Rather, the setting is purely a device to bring together goofy characters in a strange situation.

In the current season there are parallel storylines involving how Suzanne and Tiffany (aka “Pennsatucky”) understand sex and intimacy. It turns out that Suzanne has a knack for writing science fiction erotica — everyone in the prison eagerly awaits the next chapter in her serialized drama — even though she’s a virgin.

Similarly, Tiffany doesn’t understand the difference between sex and intimacy, and when she’s raped by prison a guard (and other men) doesn’t quite realize what’s happened to her because it’s not all that different from the somewhat consensual sex she had as a teenagers.

The fact there are these parallel plots cheapens what happens to Tiffany because the tone between the two stories are so vastly different. It feels like an experiment where two groups of writers were told to write the script for the same story, but one group had to do it like an Adam Sandler movie, and the other in the vein of The Shawshank Redemption.

And then what really bugs me is that Tiffany’s story line hits this emotional high point when Boo helps her acknowledge that she was raped, only to then take a cartoonish turn with a revenge plot inspired by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Something similar has gone on with the prison guard Mendez. 

He’s a monster — by far the cruelest, most sadistic guard on OITNB. And yet his portrayal is so over the top, that he’s part villain, part comic relief (his nickname is “pornstache”). Whether intended or not, by making the worst guard seem so unrealistic, the show is suggesting that there are really no guards like that. Mendez is just a stock character rather than a commentary on how terrifyingly unqualified some prison guards are.

Finally, consider the ongoing relationship between Dayanara and John.

OITNB largely sidesteps the ethics and morals of the whole situation. Even though it’s depicted as consensual, you have to ask just how consensual can it really be? He’s in a position of power. She’s young, obviously feeling insecure and vulnerable. But the show doesn’t ask these questions. Instead the plotline is treated as the most awkward workplace romance ever. Each episode there is a new challenge that the couple must face.

It’s like the show is just a workplace situational comedy that occasionally does something dramatic and shocking so that it doesn’t get accused of making light of the very real issues it exploits for its storylines on.

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