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Its prison, dude. There’s nothing to cheer about.
June 18, 2014 10:22 AM   Subscribe

The one thing that drives me nuts about this show is all the snappy banter. I understand that they have to make the show interesting, but if a guard came in and saw that you had smeared food on the wall, they would have thrown a bucket and scrubber in and not fed you again until you cleaned that shit up. They certainly wouldn’t have allowed you to talk about the food on the wall, or wait for you to give this quirky explanation. This is like a scene from Blossom or something, where the guard is playing the exasperated Dad character. It’s like, “Oh, Piper! What wacky antics have you gotten into now?”
One ex-con reviews Orange is the New Black. Part II, III.
posted by MartinWisse (205 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
The comments on those articles were interesting because they pointed out that the author was in a state prison with much higher security, (OitNB is set in a minimum security federal prison) so I don't know how much of the criticism really applies. Other people said it's pretty realistic.
posted by desjardins at 10:25 AM on June 18 [4 favorites]


Hah, this is awesome and a much-needed tonic. Orange is the New Black is such a weird concept, kind of like Hogan's Heroes was in its day.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:26 AM on June 18 [7 favorites]


I got through two episodes of the first season and stopped watching when the chick calls her husband at home and is like, "All the white people are nice!"
posted by ReeMonster at 10:26 AM on June 18 [4 favorites]


It's a tv show, not reality. It's not going to completely realistic, especially to those who have been in prison. It's going to be realistic enough to look plausible to an audience ignorant about the actual situation.

That said, Season 2 has definitely been more along the lines of "Hey this is show and we're exploring certain themes and characters and not worried about keeping it super real." And you know what, that's ok. The cast is great and frankly I'd watch creatively bounce off each other in just about anything.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:28 AM on June 18 [17 favorites]


Another thing that helped was the whole Wicca thing. I’ve been practicing it since I was 15. So, I asked for permission to use the chapel for it, and none of those women knew what the hell that was, and word got around that I was a witch.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:31 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


It's a tv show, not reality. It's not going to completely realistic,

But what is the whole point of creating a fantasy? Especially when the US ranks up there with China, Russia, and Iran in terms of locking up its own population?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:33 AM on June 18 [15 favorites]


I got through two episodes of the first season and stopped watching when the chick calls her husband at home and is like, "All the white people are nice!"

If that's the only thing you didn't like you might want to give it another shot. That was just a little indicator of where the main character is starting out, the show isn't about the nice white people vs. the mean people of color.
posted by Huck500 at 10:35 AM on June 18 [20 favorites]


But what is the whole point of creating a fantasy

To sell advertising.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:36 AM on June 18 [13 favorites]


But what is the whole point of creating a fantasy? Especially when the US ranks up there with China, Russia, and Iran in terms of locking up its own population?

There many points to creating a fantasy, but usually it's to entertain oneself or others. Yes, the US prison is terrible, and the show touches on this, but that's not its sole focus.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:37 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


To sell advertising.

On Netflix?
posted by yoink at 10:37 AM on June 18 [20 favorites]


To sell advertising.

Orange is the New Black is on Netflix. No ads.

Its purpose is to attract viewers.
posted by maxsparber at 10:38 AM on June 18 [6 favorites]


More like Punky Brewster than Blossom.
posted by blue t-shirt at 10:38 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]


Orange is the New Black is such a weird concept, kind of like Hogan's Heroes was in its day.

Have you watched the show? Because, you know, it really isn't about how wily Piper rules the cell block with her debonair charm and how she's constantly putting one over silly the silly ol' warden.
posted by yoink at 10:39 AM on June 18 [26 favorites]


This season was a lot more comical and character-focused, which I'm okay with. I'm pretty okay with the fact that it's a near majority POC cast featuring some amazing actresses acting their faces off.

(Also I made a joke on Twitter and the guy who played Gavin The Intern responsed ieeee).
posted by The Whelk at 10:40 AM on June 18 [10 favorites]


If that's the only thing you didn't like you might want to give it another shot.

Oh I know.. there were some humorous moments in the shows but when that line dropped I rolled my eyes and said to my friend, "So this is Girls, in prison."
posted by ReeMonster at 10:40 AM on June 18 [3 favorites]


Orange is the New Black is such a weird concept, kind of like Hogan's Heroes was in its day.

Have you seen the show? I ask because this comparison is really weird if you have. The show is, on some level, a comedy, but it's not Hogan's Heroes. It's often serious, rather than purely lighthearted, and it definitely engages with the realities of prison life, even if it does so imperfectly.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:40 AM on June 18 [7 favorites]


The author has also had the chance to go on book tours because of the show. On the one hand, talking about how bad prison is and how lots of the people in prison are normal and just had a bad turn in their life is positive for social change. She's also heavily involved in the production of the show, so it must be at least somewhat accurate. On the other hand, it's giving a voice to a white middle class woman instead of the people most impacted by prison. In a perfect world, Piper is not the person who gets a voice.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:41 AM on June 18 [10 favorites]


Oh I know.. there were some humorous moments in the shows but when that line dropped I rolled my eyes and said to my friend, "So this is Girls, in prison."

Orange is the New Black becomes a much more watchable show once you realize you're not supposed to like Piper.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:42 AM on June 18 [98 favorites]


naw unlike GIRLS I don;t find everyone insufferable in every possible way (except for the characters that are supposed to be insufferable, like Polly, who I almost admire for her vast ever-shifting narcissism. Like how you'd admire an erupting volcano.)
posted by The Whelk at 10:42 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]


Have you seen the show? I ask because this comparison is really weird if you have. The show is, on some level, a comedy, but it's not Hogan's Heroes. It's often serious, rather than purely lighthearted, and it definitely engages with the realities of prison life, even if it does so imperfectly.

Have you read the article? Have you been to prison?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:44 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Have you read the article? Have you been to prison?

I take it that that is a "no" then on having actually watched the show?
posted by yoink at 10:46 AM on June 18 [17 favorites]


So you're saying that M*A*S*H wasn't actually filmed in Korea?
posted by blue_beetle at 10:48 AM on June 18 [14 favorites]


I think there's possibly room for nuance between something being 'Hogan's Heroes' and something being a documentary on the prison experience.

It's entertainment, but things like the first fifteen minutes of season two are pretty affecting and dehumanizing. It's not the wire, but even the wire works on heightened drama and contrived situations. And you know what? I'd rather have a sanitized version of this story out there than none at all.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:48 AM on June 18 [6 favorites]


Yes, I seriously don't understand people who are like, "But Piper is so annoying." No shit.

To be clear, I love the show. But it's not "about" Piper.
posted by peep at 10:49 AM on June 18 [8 favorites]


I've spent time in prisons and around people who've been incarcerated, although I've never been in prison myself, and that's also irrelevant. You claimed the show was like Hogan's Heroes which seems completely unsupportable to me as someone who has seen the show and to most people I've talked about the show with.

You can either support your comment by talking about the show you've seen or we're all left to assume that your comment was deliberate hyperbole with no real point.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:50 AM on June 18 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the entire point of the show is that Piper is clueless and has no idea what the lives of people in prison are actually like, and then she, and the audience, gradually learn more about everyone else there. It's not brutal like Oz, but it's still a pretty scathing indictment of the prison system.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:51 AM on June 18 [11 favorites]


But what is the whole point of creating a fantasy? Especially when the US ranks up there with China, Russia, and Iran in terms of locking up its own population?

"United States incarceration rate"

The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world, at 754 per 100,000 (as of 2009).[2] As of December 31, 2010, the International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS) at King's College London estimated 2,266,832 prisoners from a total population of 310.64 million as of this date (730 per 100,000 in 2010).

See also "List of countries by incarceration rate".

posted by Celsius1414 at 10:52 AM on June 18 [4 favorites]


I take it that that is a "no" then on having actually watched the show?

Watched a bit, but as you can tell I don't find fantasies about prison life particularly compelling. It's not something I need to experience vicariously.

How can you say the show is "realistic" if you have never been to prison?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:53 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


It's weird how we are almost 15 years into the "quality television" era and people still have trouble understanding that the main character of a show isn't always supposed to be particularly likeable.
posted by Think_Long at 10:53 AM on June 18 [38 favorites]


One of my favorite things about Season 2 is that Piper is really not the focus. There almost isn't one character who is the focus. (Maybe Vee, but as the villian). I really enjoyed getting to see the how and why of how the inmates got there.

After the first few episodes Piper fades pretty quickly into a regular cast member.
posted by Twain Device at 10:53 AM on June 18 [5 favorites]


How can you say the show is "realistic" if you have never been to prison?

They said that the show "engages with the realities of prison life, even if it does so imperfectly".

No one thinks that OITNB is a documentary. It's fine to point out where it departs from reality, but it seems like it is sometimes accused of taking advantage of the prison setting to tell a its story without commenting on the modern prison-industrial complex, and I don't think that's very fair.
posted by Think_Long at 10:56 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]


I said it "engages with the realities of prison life" which is different than "realistic." It's not a perfect mirror to the prison experience, obviously, but based on my conversations with people who have been incarcerated and people who work in prisons it's not total fantasy. It's realistic enough to be effective fiction, which is all that it's trying to be.

I read the article's analysis of the episodes I've had a chance to watch, and mostly it's the kind of criticism you'd see of any TV show from people who actually live the life being depicted. They take liberties with the truth in order to tell stories. Welcome to fiction.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:00 AM on June 18 [15 favorites]


You can either support your comment by talking about the show you've seen or we're all left to assume that your comment was deliberate hyperbole with no real point.

This is kind of unnecessarily fighty regarding a subjective comparison of TV shows.

Personally, I think that the comparison is valid in the sense that both shows sanitize a real experience for the purpose of telling entertaining stories. M*A*S*H falls into this same general category as well.

Obviously shows like this are on a spectrum, with Hogan's Heroes way over on the not-serious-at-all side, OITNB somewhat more serious than that and M*A*S*H maybe somewhere in the middle.

I think that there are valid criticisms to be made when storytelling waters down the reality of a particular circumstance or environment for the purposes of telling a story. But that is not to say that it's always a Big Problem. It's okay for entertainment to just be entertaining.
posted by DWRoelands at 11:00 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


I think that there are valid criticisms to be made when storytelling waters down the reality of a particular circumstance or environment for the purposes of telling a story. But that is not to say that it's always a Big Problem. It's okay for entertainment to just be entertaining.

Time for that plantation comedy you've been sitting on, writers!
posted by mobunited at 11:04 AM on June 18 [6 favorites]


Oh and also a ton of the comments in the article, while obviously true of the author's experience are highly prison specific. You never see an administrator walking around a prison? I'm sure that's true a lot of places, but I also know it's not true other places. I've got a family member who is a prison administrator and I know he walks around his facilities in a suit and tie all the time.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:06 AM on June 18 [3 favorites]


Y'all expect too much from TV shows.
posted by planetesimal at 11:06 AM on June 18 [7 favorites]


I've worked a desk job for almost 20 years and I can't wait to tell all of you how much The Office got wrong!
posted by turaho at 11:10 AM on June 18 [55 favorites]


And how come Cheers never showed alcohol-fueled domestic violence?
posted by planetesimal at 11:11 AM on June 18 [20 favorites]



Find me the prison where they send the rapist who just got processed to deliver the food to the women. Please.

I think they're saying he’s actually a hitman and not a rapist.

Are you fucking brain-damaged, dude? Do you think that makes this more believable?

Right. Sorry.




Hahaha I kind of love this person
posted by windbox at 11:11 AM on June 18 [19 favorites]


One thing that you need to keep in mind is that fed pens and state pens are very different animals. There is also a large difference between state pens. California vs Arizona vs Colorado vs Texas vs Alabama, all very different. Pens in the same state are all very different. Chino vs Pelican Bay vs Lancaster vs Donovan vs Centinela vs Tehachapi, all very different. My ex-wife and her friends all worked for the California Department of Corrections. And some of the shit they would talk about didn't sound too far off from the show. It sounds like the friend in the article got put in a middle-road, slightly dysfunctional prison.

Prison isn't Jail, in both bad and good ways. Some prisons have good programs for inmate rehab, like a few central valley prisons here in California. Some prisons are extremely dysfunctional like Lancaster California.

The only real unifying thing is that prison sucks. It can ruin you down to you core. I say this not as someone who's been to prison, but as someone who was married to someone who spent 40+ hours there every week.

Interesting side note: Illegal immigrants used to sneak INTO prison in Donovan. The minimum security guards would do counts and find they had more inmates than they should. Three hots and a cot is a thing.
posted by The Power Nap at 11:13 AM on June 18 [16 favorites]


Orange is the New Black is such a weird concept, kind of like Hogan's Heroes was in its day.

Whenever someone brings up the "you can have dinner with anyone from history" game, I immediately go with "the guy who pitched Hogan's Heroes" and "the A&R guy who signed Bob Dylan."
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:13 AM on June 18 [7 favorites]


Haven't seen Orange Is The New Black, but this snippet from Part I just floored me.

Again, I get the need for drama and stories, but if the lady who runs this show wanted to be realistic, most of these flashbacks would be about 8 seconds long.

What do you mean?

I mean that a lot of the girls I knew in prison were in there for really uncomplicated and undramatic reasons. Like, an accurate flashback scene would be a black girl sitting on the couch watching TV, and her boyfriend...says “Hey, baby, do you mind if I leave this shit here for my cousin to pick up?” And she says “OK,” without even looking up from QVC. And then, boom, cut to her serving 10 years.

I had always assumed this was true, but it's still a revelation to see it laid out so plainly. I can empathize the dissatisfaction of the "reviewer" with the show if it doesn't reflect this reality.
posted by jonp72 at 11:13 AM on June 18 [23 favorites]


I like the show a lot, but I do think it would be improved by toning down some of the more cartoon-y elements and giving the actresses more room to show off. However I know that personally the cartoonish elements make it easier to watch without having a panic attack because it reminds my lizard brain that it's not real. I have to wonder if the wacky MASH-like stuff is coming from a perception that if it were too gritty people would be turned off. Netflix's whole strategy with this is to make it a water-cooler thing to drive subscriptions and that means making it accessible. I'm not saying there's not room for improvement but well nothing's perfect.
posted by bleep at 11:14 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Orange is the New Black becomes a much more watchable show once you realize you're not supposed to like Piper.

Oh good because she works my very last nerve. The whole "angsty upper West side" schtick is jus annoying. I got through Season 1 but have no interest in Season 2.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 11:14 AM on June 18


Watched a bit, but as you can tell I don't find fantasies about prison life particularly compelling. It's not something I need to experience vicariously.

How can you say the show is "realistic" if you have never been to prison?


I never once used the word "realistic" in this thread. The person you responded to who did use the word said that the show was "not completely realistic." But leaving the fact that this is largely a straw man: if we can only judge the "realism" of shows that are about things we, personally, have experienced the term is pointless. The person writing the criticism linked in the FPP wasn't, in fact, in the same kind of prison as that depicted in the show--so how can that person judge the "realism" of a show about X kind of prison when she was in Y kind of prison? That's just a pointless and endless regression.

Is "The Wire" a more "realistic" show than, say, "Starsky and Hutch"? Can I really only voice an opinion on that if I'm a Baltimore drug dealer? Or do I have to have been a Baltimore cop AND a Baltimore drug dealer AND and addict AND a dockworker AND a teacher AND a journalist to offer an opinion? Maybe I also need to have been a cop in a fictional Southern California town, too, before I can be so sure that "Starsky and Hutch" wasn't realistic?

It's clear to me that you didn't watch enough of Orange Is the New Black to have any right to offer any kind of opinion about it of any kind whatsoever. You have fundamentally misunderstood its premise (there are many ways in which the series begins by setting up some fundamental misunderstandings about the nature of the institution that Piper has entered in order to disabuse the audience of them--along with Piper--as we go forward; amongst other things, by the end of S1 we understand just how horribly vulnerable to abuse ALL the inmates are; something that moves us very clearly out of Hogan's Heroes territory; unless you remember some hi-larious episode in which Sgt. Schultz raped Frenchie or what have you). Piper's white privilege is something the show is extremely interested in exploring and critiquing--one of its particularly valuable elements is the way it slowly explores every main character's route into the prison system, steadily exposing the systemic racism, sexism and other forms of institutionalized bigotry which make Piper, precisely, such an anomalous and non-representative figure.

The show is not trying to be "realistic" in the sense of "this is just what it would be like to be a fly on the wall of a minimum security women's prison." But it is a show that is written with a profound awareness of the realities that it is addressing. You really ought to try watching it without the glib preconceptions.
posted by yoink at 11:14 AM on June 18 [32 favorites]


I'm curious about how much the prison experience is universal. This woman has experience in one prison and what sounds like a half-way house sort of place.

Obviously, OITNB isn't entirely accurate in the same way helicopters don't crash every other day like on ER, but every time I hear "that would never happen in prison" I think "well, maybe it just didn't happen in your prison."

I trust her experience over my own non-experience, but she's really only an expert on the particular prison she attended, not on prisons everywhere.

Enjoyable articles though. I hope she reviews the rest of the series.
posted by bondcliff at 11:15 AM on June 18 [4 favorites]


I mean that a lot of the girls I knew in prison were in there for really uncomplicated and undramatic reasons. Like, an accurate flashback scene would be a black girl sitting on the couch watching TV, and her boyfriend...says “Hey, baby, do you mind if I leave this shit here for my cousin to pick up?” And she says “OK,” without even looking up from QVC. And then, boom, cut to her serving 10 years.

I found this remark to be really insightful and depressing. My husband has often made fun of the show for the fact that so many of the prisoners are so very sympathetic, but I think this is a good example of how much further they could go with that.
posted by chaiminda at 11:16 AM on June 18 [8 favorites]


“Let us sally forth and set a contest! In which two shall seduce maidens, yet only one shall triumph! Tally ho!”

This woman is AMAZING.
posted by corb at 11:19 AM on June 18 [9 favorites]


Just as for you kids, there's a QXCD [or whatever it is] stick figure for every occasion, for us oldsters, there's a Monty Python for every occasion:
Caption: 'TWO YEARS LATER' Interior cockpit of airliner.

Pilot: Gosh, I am glad I'm a fully qualified arline pilot.

(Cut to BALPA spokesman)

BALPA Man: The British Airline Pilots Association would like to point out that it takes a chap six years to become a fully qualified airline pilot, and not two.

Caption: 'FOUR YEARS LATER THAN THE LAST CAPTION'

(For three seconds. Then cut back to BALPA spokesman.)

BALPA Man: Thank you. I didn't want to seem a bit of an old fusspot just now you know, but it's just as easy to get these things right, as they are easily found in the BALPA handbook. Oh, one other thing, in the Sherlock Holmes last week Tommy Cooper told a joke about a charter flight, omitting to point out that one must be a member of any organization that charters a plane for at least six months beforehand, before being able to take advantage of it. Did rather spoil the joke for me, I'm afraid. (phone ring) Yes, ah yes - yes. (puts phone down) My wife just reminded me that on a recent High Chapparal Kathy Kirby was singing glibly about 'Fly me to the Stars' when of course there are no scheduled flights of this kind, or even chartered, available to the general public at the present moment, although of course, when they are BALPA will be in the vanguard. Or the Trident. Little joke for the chaps up at BALPA House. And one other small point. Why is it that these new lurex dancing tights go baggy at the knees after only a couple of evenings fun? Bring back the old canvas ones I say. It is incredible, isn't it, that in these days when man can walk on the moon and work out the most complicated hire purchase agreements, I still get these terrible headaches. Well . .. I seem to have wandered a bit, but still, no harm done. Jolly good luck.
posted by Herodios at 11:21 AM on June 18 [17 favorites]


The essential problem is that prisons in the US are a form of economic exploitation that rely on an unfree population largely selected by class and ethnicity. Some forms of criticizing this woman's response are to a certain extent erasing the experienced of an oppressed person for the sake of feeling good about watching a TV show. The fact that this person did a thing we disapprove of, and prisons have this mandate, are part of the strategy deployed to justify prisons, without mentioning biased sentencing, prisons as make work projects, and prisons as sources of functionally indentured labour. When you use this as the setting for a TV show, you have a tremendous responsibility.
posted by mobunited at 11:23 AM on June 18 [19 favorites]


MetaFilter: FOUR YEARS LATER THAN THE LAST CAPTION
posted by boo_radley at 11:25 AM on June 18 [4 favorites]


oh also, when this series debuted, I got kicked out of my gym because I didn't know one of the first scenes would be showery naked times and somebody complained that I was watching softcore stuff on my tablet.

Now, that's just my gym. I'm not saying it'd happen in your gym. But that was my experience, and it was a valid one.
posted by boo_radley at 11:26 AM on June 18 [18 favorites]


Now, that's just my gym. I'm not saying it'd happen in your gym. But that was my experience, and it was a valid one.

I've never gone to the gym, so I am in no way allowed to have an opinion on the matter.
posted by bondcliff at 11:29 AM on June 18 [29 favorites]


The fact that this person did a thing we disapprove of, and prisons have this mandate, are part of the strategy deployed to justify prisons, without mentioning biased sentencing, prisons as make work projects, and prisons as sources of functionally indentured labour.

It's clear that you, too, have not watched the show. Seriously: the writers for the show are very, very aware of how deeply fucked the US prison-industrial complex is. They are very, very aware that "if you don't want to do the time, you shouldn't do the crime" is a completely moronic attitude. I'm sure there are all kinds of things you could criticize this show for, but inventing a show in your head which is all about what fun hi-jinks people get up to in prison while also being about how prison is ultimately a really valuable social institution that metes out punishment to wrongdoers in fair and unbiased ways really isn't a useful approach.
posted by yoink at 11:29 AM on June 18 [22 favorites]


On the other hand, it's giving a voice to a white middle class woman instead of the people most impacted by prison. In a perfect world, Piper is not the person who gets a voice.

I mentioned this over in the fanfare thread, but I think that criticism of the show misses and important aspect of her role in it. The show is a dramedy --- soapy and sappy at times but with plenty of light, funny moments too. Very, very many of those comedic moments come out of twisting stereotypes people on the outside have about prison. With Piper there, she can serve as the butt of those jokes. We are laughing at her, at her naïveté, and it's the other prisoners who get to play the more nuanced sides of say, having a prison wife. Without Piper, the only privileged middle class people in the world of the show would be the ones writing it and watching it, and I think that would bar you from doing a lot of the jokes that help balance the show, because you'd constantly be at risk of feeling like the show was only laughing at the minority characters rather than with. There's a moment in one episode when Lea Delaria's character cracks up at Piper after one of her self-serving schemes fails to come off, saying, "you really are a horrible person, you know." One of the bloggers over at New York magazine referred to this as "basically the thesis of this show" and I think there's a lot of truth to that. Not to say that Piper is unredeemable or without virtues, but that I think having her as a locus point is necessary to the show not because viewers need a Nice White Lady to sympathise with, but precisely because it allows the show to satirise all the misconceptions self involved liberals like Piper have about the system.

In re TFA, I think it's been an interesting and useful perspective. But looking at the comments on the piece it seems to me like people who been to minimum security federal prison, as opposed to a high security state prison, found some of the practices she called out as unrealistic were true to life in their experience (full service kitchens, guard ratios, prisoners being allowed to handle knives). I thought that was interesting.

But as far as some of the other stuff --- ease with which prisoners can sneak off to have sex, for example ---I'm willing to cut them a little slack for the sake of drama.
posted by Diablevert at 11:30 AM on June 18 [18 favorites]


I don't mind that Piper isn't likable, but I do mind that she is/was the viewpoint character and is not likable and is also just not interesting. Most of the non-likable characters you see in tv are compelling -- Piper is not.
posted by jeather at 11:32 AM on June 18 [4 favorites]


I have to wonder if the wacky MASH-like stuff is coming from a perception that if it were too gritty people would be turned off.

Have you seen Weeds? Jenji Kohan is just kind of a wacky director.
posted by desjardins at 11:32 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]


I like the show a lot, but I do think it would be improved by toning down some of the more cartoon-y elements and giving the actresses more room to show off. However I know that personally the cartoonish elements make it easier to watch without having a panic attack because it reminds my lizard brain that it's not real. I have to wonder if the wacky MASH-like stuff is coming from a perception that if it were too gritty people would be turned off. Netflix's whole strategy with this is to make it a water-cooler thing to drive subscriptions and that means making it accessible. I'm not saying there's not room for improvement but well nothing's perfect.

I've read a couple of interviews now where they talk about trying to walk a very delicate line, keeping true enough to the bad parts without being so dark as to lose their audience. I'm not sure they get it totally right, but it's something they are definitely self-aware about.

I'm pretty okay with the fact that it's a near majority POC cast featuring some amazing actresses acting their faces off.

This is why I watch it. If every show and movie featured such a wide array of actors the show wouldn't stand out nearly as much. It's shameful how few casts look like this, and how few good roles there are for many of the women in the show.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:34 AM on June 18 [9 favorites]


Piper (at least to where I am in the second season) feels like a viewpoint character in name only. I don't remember the last time I gave a shit about her or her storylines, and it doesn't feel subjectively like she's getting much more screen time than anyone else. I'm sure she is, but it doesn't feel much like her story to me, anymore.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:35 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


The series is not fiction. It's based on the actual memoirs of Piper Kerman. Most who have read the book and watched the TV series say that the TV series is actually more harsh than the book itself.
posted by Kokopuff at 11:36 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]


Whenever someone brings up the "you can have dinner with anyone from history" game, I immediately go with "the guy who pitched Hogan's Heroes" and "the A&R guy who signed Bob Dylan."

Bernard Fein (Pvt. Gomez from the Phil Silvers show!) and Albert S. Ruddy (one of the producers of The Godfather!) for the former. John Hammond (civil rights activist! Also responsible for Bruce Spingsteen! And the revival of Robert Johnson's music!) for the latter.

I would also like to be at that dinner.
posted by maxsparber at 11:37 AM on June 18 [8 favorites]


The series is not fiction. It's based on the actual memoirs of Piper Kerman.

The show is based on a work of nonfiction, but the show itself is fiction. Like how Psycho was based on Ed Gein.

Well, maybe not exactly like that, but you get the idea.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:38 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


It is really weird, though - like, were the memoirs as self hating as all that, or is that something the showrunners came up with?
posted by corb at 11:40 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Seriously?

M*A*S*H: It's a war, they're nothing to laugh about.
Dr. Strangelove: It's a nuclear war, there's nothing to laugh about.
Fight Club: It's terrorism instigated by a psychopath, there's nothing to laugh about.
Ernest Goes To Jail: It's prison, there's nothing to laugh about.
I Love You To Death: It's domestic violence, there's nothing to laugh about.
Everyone has AIDS, there's nothing to laugh about!

I don't think anybody in their right mind thinks OITNB is an accurate depiction of prison.
Comedy about horrible things is one of the ways we deal with horrible things. We also deal with them with serious realistic fiction and with documentary and academic study.

Some things aren't supposed to be realistic. I feel for people who have trauma and who get triggered or offended by fiction that makes light of their trauma. I have trauma from violence, and I get triggered by fiction and film quite often. Cloverfield, a stupid monster movie, made me crumble into tears on the way out of the theater.

That doesn't mean I feel like I have any business telling people not to depict skyscrapers falling in fluffy fiction, just because I saw skyscrapers fall and saw 3000 people die in person.

Nor do I have any business objecting to this comedy because I've lost a family member to a shooting and I've seen multiple shootings first hand. That SNL short came out very soon after my Aunt was murdered, and it triggered the hell out of me. But dealing with everyday triggers like that is part of healing. If we demanded that nothing was triggering and nobody made light of traumatic experiences by depicting them unrealistically, we'd live in a dull dull dull world.

If the intent here is to use OITNB as a pivot to talk about the realities of prison, fine, that makes sense. But to object to it's existence because it isn't "real enough"? Lighten up, folks.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 11:40 AM on June 18 [17 favorites]


Again, I get the need for drama and stories, but if the lady who runs this show wanted to be realistic, most of these flashbacks would be about 8 seconds long.

What do you mean?

I mean that a lot of the girls I knew in prison were in there for really uncomplicated and undramatic reasons. Like, an accurate flashback scene would be a black girl sitting on the couch watching TV, and her boyfriend...says “Hey, baby, do you mind if I leave this shit here for my cousin to pick up?” And she says “OK,” without even looking up from QVC. And then, boom, cut to her serving 10 years.


All true, but it's worth pointing out that, at least in the second season, most of the flashbacks (all but the nun and Morello IIRC) still don't actually show us what the inmates are doing time for.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:45 AM on June 18 [4 favorites]


I got through two episodes of the first season and stopped watching when the chick calls her husband at home and is like, "All the white people are nice!"

Then you're missed the entire character arch of Piper making multiple race and class clueless moves and statements that end up working against her and ultimately making her look terrible to her peers. She learns a little, but not enough. The whole point is that she's naive, privileged, and kind of unlikeable.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 11:45 AM on June 18 [3 favorites]


Season 2 had some great characters and a great villain. And it ended perfectly with my favorite and least favorite character intersecting. Heh. Heh. Heh. Heeeeh.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:45 AM on June 18 [6 favorites]


Yeah, not exactly like that. Piper Kerman is an executive producer. So it might be a fictional show, but it has some consistent oversight.
posted by Kokopuff at 11:46 AM on June 18


I agree that Piper was much less viewpointy in season 2, I had some trailing viewpointness from season 1. But she's still boring and I think she gets more time than any other single character, though not more than everyone else put together.
posted by jeather at 11:49 AM on June 18


> but it's worth pointing out that, at least in the second season, most of the flashbacks (all but the nun and Morello IIRC) still don't actually show us what the inmates are doing time for.

Yeah, I think there was some expectation that Pousey's flashback would show what she had done to get time, but it just painted more of her identity. The reason she was in was just casually dropped in conversation a few episodes after that.
posted by planetesimal at 11:49 AM on June 18


I also hope no one ever uses the word "viewpointy" ever again.
posted by planetesimal at 11:50 AM on June 18 [8 favorites]


My feelings about this show are so ambivalent. I mean, I was completely riveted to both seasons. But I can't figure out if it's ultimately a great show with some problematic elements or a problematic show with some great elements.
posted by threeants at 11:56 AM on June 18 [3 favorites]


" Piper Kerman is an executive producer."
That doesn't mean she's on set with stopwatch. She's not the line producer--she sold the rights to her book. Her involvement in the taping and editing of the program is minimal. She has a writer credit because the show is based on her book, but she hasn't written any scripts.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:00 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


English is a powerful and fluid language that allows all sorts of wonderful combinations of words and affixes, planetesimal.
posted by jeather at 12:01 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Fuck y'all Piper-haters.
posted by mullacc at 12:05 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


I'm also getting tired of the idea that there are shows where you aren't supposed to like the main character. This might work better in film but not necessarily in TV. And for me there's a difference between a character being "a bad guy" who you root for anyway (Tony, Walter), and characters being simply annoying and insufferable (Piper, Hannah.) If it were true that we aren't "supposed" to like Hannah or Piper, then why the hell do people want to watch these kinds of shows? It's completely puzzling to me. The idea that we aren't supposed to like the main character of a TV show we are supposed to spend hours watching is preposterous and can only mean that we ARE supposed to like these annoying disgusting characters in the name of what.. "learning something" about ourselves?
posted by ReeMonster at 12:07 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


Who says you can't like Piper?
posted by planetesimal at 12:09 PM on June 18


I'm also getting tired of the idea that there are shows where you aren't supposed to like the main character.

Okay. Do you also get tired of the idea that the sky is blue?
posted by IAmUnaware at 12:13 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


I don't hate Piper. In my eyes she's the Jerry Seinfeld of the bunch (except the actress can act, at least). She's the straight man, the eyes through which the viewers learn about the world of prison.

If we're talking about hating people, let's dig into Larry.
posted by something something at 12:14 PM on June 18 [7 favorites]


So sick of this Goya painting where the dude is eating his child's head. I would never do something like that. Seems kinda gross to eat child heads. Even if you're hungry. Plus it's bad, morally. I don't think anyone should eat children IMO
posted by Greg Nog at 12:15 PM on June 18 [60 favorites]


My feelings about this show are so ambivalent. I mean, I was completely riveted to both seasons. But I can't figure out if it's ultimately a great show with some problematic elements or a problematic show with some great elements.

And you know, this is probably the best way, instead of telling people who've been to prison to shut it so you can feel good or accusing anyone with issues of not seeing/understanding the show. Everybody likes problematic things and that's okay. The only sin is to pretend the thing isn't problematic.
posted by mobunited at 12:16 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


The idea that we aren't supposed to like the main character of a TV show we are supposed to spend hours watching is preposterous and can only mean that we ARE supposed to like these annoying disgusting characters in the name of what..

Is "entertainment" not a good enough answer?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:16 PM on June 18


I am completely stealing the character of the junkie bank-robbing witch for a Shadowrun game or at least a short story.
posted by Oktober at 12:16 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


I love that the show has brought several lesser-known actors to light (Uzo Aduba! Samira Wiley!) and hope it propels them along their careers, but I feel like so much of the sex in the show is just pandering to stereotypical male fantasies (lesbians! in prison! prison lesbians!), and I feel like very little of it does anything other than provide cheap titillation.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:17 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


If it were true that we aren't "supposed" to like Hannah or Piper, then why the hell do people want to watch these kinds of shows?

I can't speak to Girls, because I think the entire ensemble is loathsome, but Orange, for me, is about the sympathetic supporting cast. Piper is the Reason for the Season, as it were, but the real attraction is what happens around (and, yes, sometimes because of) her. (And I suppose she's even a bit sympathetic ... sometimes.)

If we're talking about hating people, let's dig into Larry.

Plus yeah, we're only three episodes into Season 2 and I pretty much want Larry and Polly to drive off the Tappan Zee together.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:17 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]


So sick of this Goya painting where the dude is eating his child's head. I would never do something like that. Seems kinda gross to eat child heads. Even if you're hungry. Plus it's bad, mroally. I don't think anyone should eat children IMO.

In a world where 1% of children, mostly people of colour and the poor, are sold and eaten, you might have a point.
posted by mobunited at 12:17 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


I don't hate piper either. My point is that her flaws are intentional, you're not supposed to like her for those flaws.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 12:18 PM on June 18


If you really don't like Piper, just remember that Taylor Schilling plaid Dagny Taggart in the first Atlas Shrugged movie, and just mentally adjust things accordingly.
posted by COBRA! at 12:18 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


You don't have to like someone to be curious about what happens to them.

That said, I don't hate Piper. Sometimes I've felt a lot of sympathy for her; sometimes I've found her repugnant. I'm curious to see what happens to her and how prison changes her. I think the show has done a pretty good job of making her a flawed person whose choices, and the consequences she faces for them, are often a product of those flaws.

In some ways, I think OItNB does a better job than Breaking Bad did in that respect --- there was a huge chunk of the viewership that was so caught up in what an awesome badass Walter White was that they simply refused to recognise how evil he had become, and were just straight up rooting for him to vanquish his enemies.
posted by Diablevert at 12:22 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


there was a huge chunk of the viewership that was so caught up in what an awesome badass Walter White was that they simply refused to recognise how straight up evil he had become

Yeah, I came late to the BB party, but the Scarface-ification of Walt sure says something about the audience, and it's not particularly nice.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:23 PM on June 18 [7 favorites]


And you know, this is probably the best way, instead of telling people who've been to prison to shut it so you can feel good

Nobody has said this. What the hell?
posted by dinty_moore at 12:24 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]


instead of telling people who've been to prison to shut it so you can feel good

Yes, this thing that hasn't happened is, indeed, a very bad thing that all those imaginary people should feel really bad about.
posted by yoink at 12:26 PM on June 18 [11 favorites]


I don't think anyone should eat children IMO.

not all titans
posted by elizardbits at 12:26 PM on June 18 [49 favorites]


What a weird fucking thread.
posted by planetesimal at 12:28 PM on June 18 [16 favorites]


In a world where 1% of children, mostly people of colour and the poor, are sold and eaten, you might have a point.

what
posted by elizardbits at 12:30 PM on June 18 [17 favorites]


(Just on the reductio "if you don't like that OitNB is about prison, that must mean that you don't want there to be art about bad things ever": To me, the tricky bit is that prison isn't just a bad thing like a typhoon (or an alien invasion, etc); it's totally human-created, violent, unjust and destructive, and it's only gotten more so since the eighties. What's more, with any work of art there's all kinds of questions about viewpoint and audience - who makes the show, who makes most of the money from the show, who watches the show, what social position are they in, etc. This is a show with a large audience among well-off white progressives who are very unlikely to go to prison and almost equally unlikely to know anyone who has gone to prison well enough to talk about this stuff; the show is intended as and taken as this strange edutainment fusion. More, it seems like the only way there can be a TV show about working class women of color is to set it in a women's prison and make sure there's lots of progressive-yet-titillating sexual content.

Tl;dr: this is a specific show about a specific situation; saying "I think that making this kind of art about this kind of issue is [not ideal]" is not even close to saying "I think that art should never deal with bad things because depicting them is the same as endorsing them".)
posted by Frowner at 12:31 PM on June 18 [8 favorites]


i mean really can you provide any kind of citation AT ALL including just saying "a wizard did it" to back up your statement that 1% of the 1.9 billion children on earth - that would be 19 million kids by the way - are kidnapped and eaten

i want to see this citation so badly you have no idea
posted by elizardbits at 12:35 PM on June 18 [13 favorites]


not all titans

Yeah, Cronos was kind of a bad seed, but in his defense he came from a pretty dysfunctional family.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:35 PM on June 18 [6 favorites]


a wizard did it with a dragon
posted by koeselitz at 12:36 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Hey, no Game of Thrones spoilers!
posted by planetesimal at 12:37 PM on June 18 [9 favorites]


i want to see this citation so badly you have no idea

You didn't get it? You honestly didn't get that a chunk of mythology is not comparable to the conditions 1% of American adults are subject to?
posted by mobunited at 12:38 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Seriously, if it were really 1% there totally would have been a "can I eat this child" AskMe by now.
posted by bondcliff at 12:38 PM on June 18 [13 favorites]


elizardbits: "not all titans"

when Rhea kidnaps a child and feeds Cronus a rock we call it protection
posted by boo_radley at 12:39 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]


I really hope she keeps reviewing the show. These were gold.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:40 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


I think Piper is pretty interesting, at least the way the show handles her. IIRC it's a while before anyone says she's an unreliable narrator and the kind of emotionally-driven person who makes the same mistakes over and over, but all the while her actress is playing her as exactly that person.

It's hard to watch a show where the viewpoint character screws up all the time, most people prefer fantasies of competence like Walt.
posted by subdee at 12:40 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


I forgot that for the US prison system to be what it is it has to be surrounded by a culture of tacit approval and trivialization of it. Now I have been reminded of it! A lot!
posted by mobunited at 12:40 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Ftr my Goya comment was a response to the idea that a piece of art needs a likeable protagonist to be compelling, not to the idea that the show does or not have merit because of the level of reality it depicts within its narrative setting, the latter of which is an argument I don't really have any interest in.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:41 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


This is a show with a large audience among well-off white progressives who are very unlikely to go to prison and almost equally unlikely to know anyone who has gone to prison well enough to talk about this stuff; the show is intended as and taken as this strange edutainment fusion.

Have you watched this show yet at all since you were hilariously misinformed about it in the first season's thread?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:42 PM on June 18 [8 favorites]


Diablevert: “That said, I don't hate Piper. Sometimes I've felt a lot of sympathy for her; sometimes I've found her repugnant. I'm curious to see what happens to her and how prison changes her. I think the show has done a pretty good job of making her a flawed person whose choices, and the consequences she faces for them, are often a product of those flaws.”

I think your read of Piper's character makes a lot of sense – I've felt the same way about her, as sort of this interesting audience-lens they can play with – which is why honestly I was really glad her character hasn't really seemed to progress in any substantial, non-ephemeral way. Because it would be just so easy for them to fuck that up. There's grandest, oldest, most terrible trope of all: privileged person learns some really touching lessons about brown folks, and then goes on home and lives happily ever after as a deeper, wiser, more enlightened privileged person person. And there are tempting variations on this theme they've already flirted with.

Largely I've been pretty impressed. There was that episode where Piper made her little speech about her poor grandmother, and I felt this sliding into this place where she was getting overbearingly difficult again. But they ended up really nicely preserving the ambiguity and difficulty there: the lives of white people don't lack some sort of 'authenticity,' and their problems are just as real as anybody else's, but at the same time we really can't act like it isn't a fantastic and insane privilege to (for example) be let out of prison for a whole 48 hours to do whatever you want just because your grandmother is dying.
posted by koeselitz at 12:43 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


– in short, it's just better not to have her character advance all that much; I'd rather she be preserved at that level, so that the ambiguity of privilege shines through.
posted by koeselitz at 12:43 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


I mean, it was some family. Cronos' father, who was the Sky, for example, just let it all hang out, apparently. Now that must've been something to wake up to.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:43 PM on June 18


You honestly didn't get that a chunk of mythology is not comparable to the conditions 1% of American adults are subject to?

I don't understand why Greg's blatantly, obviously, ridiculously facetious comment led you to make up the most blatantly false factoid in the entire universe.
posted by elizardbits at 12:44 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


literally in the entire universe even the parts we have not yet discovered
posted by elizardbits at 12:44 PM on June 18 [7 favorites]


I don't hate Piper. In my eyes she's the Jerry Seinfeld of the bunch (except the actress can act, at least).

I don't hate Piper either, but I watched all of Weeds so I am apparently inoculated against Jenji Kohan antiheroines. Also, it's kind of a trip to think of the show as an alternate-universe version of those three years Nancy Botwin spent in prison in between Seasons 6 & 7.

If we're talking about hating people, let's dig into Larry.

I haven't really dug into Season 2 much yet, but he is beknownst to this viewer as Mr. Fast-Forward.
posted by psoas at 12:44 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


"in a world where 1% of pomeranians can do calculus we should not make jokes about weird spanish art that is nevertheless gorgeous to behold"

nope still not as silly as yours
posted by elizardbits at 12:45 PM on June 18 [12 favorites]


Yeah, I think Taylor Schilling is doing a fine job playing Piper. Jason Biggs too, with Larry.

There's grandest, oldest, most terrible trope of all: privileged person learns some really touching lessons about brown folks, and then goes on home and lives happily ever after as a deeper, wiser, more enlightened privileged person person.

It's like you read the book.
posted by jeather at 12:45 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]


And for me there's a difference between a character being "a bad guy" who you root for anyway (Tony, Walter), and characters being simply annoying and insufferable (Piper, Hannah.)

It kind of gets my goat how "But the main character is unlikeable" is only ever leveraged against shows with female leads. Has anyone ever said that about Curb Your Enthusiasm? It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia?
posted by oinopaponton at 12:46 PM on June 18 [29 favorites]


The Office as another example.
posted by Twain Device at 12:48 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


I forgot that for the US prison system to be what it is it has to be surrounded by a culture of tacit approval and trivialization of it. Now I have been reminded of it! A lot!

This comports zero percent with what's being said here.
posted by psoas at 12:48 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


mobunited: “I forgot that for the US prison system to be what it is it has to be surrounded by a culture of tacit approval and trivialization of it. Now I have been reminded of it! A lot!”

You've been misreading this thread in a number of weird ways.

First of all, I'm not sure you know this from your comments, but basically the entire subject of the show we are talking about here is that a lot of people are in prison who don't deserve to be, for tragic reasons, and that the entire prison system is totally fucked. That seems to be one of the main points of the show, and it's hammered home every episode. That's why I think a lot of us like it.

Second of all, absolutely no one is telling any person to "shut it," particularly not the awesome ex-con reviewing episodes here, whom everyone in this thread genuinely seems to like.

Third of all, do you really think that all jokes about serious things are terrible trivializing?
posted by koeselitz at 12:48 PM on June 18 [16 favorites]


Has anyone ever said that about Curb Your Enthusiasm?

What? I don't think anyone has not said that about Curb.
posted by mullacc at 12:48 PM on June 18 [8 favorites]


It kind of gets my goat how "But the main character is unlikeable" is only ever leveraged against shows with female leads. Has anyone ever said that about Curb Your Enthusiasm?

I think you might have a point, but I'm not sure Curb is the best example to use. I don't know anyone who likes the Larry David character.

And I'm pretty sure that includes Larry David himself.
posted by bondcliff at 12:48 PM on June 18 [7 favorites]


It kind of gets my goat how "But the main character is unlikeable" is only ever leveraged against shows with female leads.

The Magicians was recently picked up. Time will tell if Quentyn is as unlikeable as he is in the book.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:50 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that's my point -- having a cringey, awful main character is what people like about Curb.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:51 PM on June 18


Or to put it another way, unlikable main characters are seen as a strength of the show when they're male, and a reason not to watch the show if they're female.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:53 PM on June 18 [17 favorites]


I don't do these too often, but c'mon, this one demands it.

Metafilter: More like Punky Brewster than Blossom.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:58 PM on June 18


It's clear that you, too, have not watched the show. Seriously: the writers for the show are very, very aware of how deeply fucked the US prison-industrial complex is.

Ok, as someone who has watched every episode of this show, and very much enjoys it on the dramatic level, it's not apparent to me that the writers have a particularly sophisticated understanding of why the prison-industrial complex is so fucked up. Or at least, they're frequently trying to have their cake and eat it too: like, Bennett is sort of a rapist when you actually think about it but he's so dreamy! Or, there is systemic abuse on the part of prison guards but it often involves wacky hijinx! Or, there is a huge population locked up for non-violent drug crimes but let's make sure to give equal time to people who committed more fun crimes like nuclear tresspassing, participating in the Occupy movement [?!], high adventure bank robbery, or defrauding Zappo's / being a stalker!
posted by threeants at 1:08 PM on June 18 [5 favorites]


Let's just admit that it's a bit of a tawdry show and that's why people like it. It's not required to be anything.
posted by planetesimal at 1:09 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


And I'm not saying OITNB necessarily does this sort of thing worse than other popular media (I'd say probably, on the whole, it does better), but I feel like as a writer or producer you do sort of inherit a whole nother level of responsibility along with the semi-realistic prison setting.
posted by threeants at 1:10 PM on June 18


So I've now RTFAs and I have to say that on one hand everything the writer's SME says rings true and I can totally sympathize with her irritations; on the other hand, the version of the show that she would sanction would never get made and probably no one would watch it either, even with the best intentions in the world to become 'educated' on the subject matter. Really, some messages are better dramatised and others are better put into words.
 
posted by Herodios at 1:11 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


It kind of gets my goat how "But the main character is unlikeable" is only ever leveraged against shows with female leads.

I agree that this is a product of sexism, but there seems to be more to it.

Part of this is the complex meanings liking a character has. It could mean wanting to be friends, it could mean enjoying a detestable character's scheming, it could mean anything in between. Walt wasn't likable in the sense that you'd want to be anywhere near him, but he was likable in the sense that you were interested in the character. (Regina on Once Upon A Time for a while filled a similar role, though she was the villain not the anti-hero -- but the lack of female anti-heroes is a related but different story.)

When I am watching a tv show or a movie or, to a lesser extent, reading a book, I want to be enjoying myself, and watching characters I find nothing to grasp onto doesn't do that -- you can be a compelling jerk, or a nice person, or something -- but if you are a jerk who is also really boring (which I argue is true about Piper and Larry -- possibly done more deliberately this season, as a response to The Only Protagonists We Care About Are Middle Class Attractive White People, now we have those people and everyone likes all the other characters better) I don't really want to spend my time with you.

And there is this dearth of interesting antiheroines in media, but the "I want to like the character" is a lot of response to that earlier problem, not simple sexism.
posted by jeather at 1:17 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


If a piece of art seems problematic, I like to ask if that's intentional. If what I see as a problem is actually a challenge, and therefore an opportunity for me to ask more questions about why that decision was made and what the artist is trying to communicate with that decision.

A lot of the time, it turns out that there's not a lot of answer to this question. Sometimes shitty artistic decisions are just shitty. But sometimes it turns out that there are some really good reasons for making weird, troubling decisions.

But, then, when I watch television and an extra in the background goes through a door, I always end up thinking "Jeez, who was that? Where are they going?" So I might read a little bit too much into everything.
posted by maxsparber at 1:17 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


It kind of gets my goat how "But the main character is unlikeable" is only ever leveraged against shows with female leads. Has anyone ever said that about Curb Your Enthusiasm? It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia?

I agree with your overall point, but I definitely feel this way about Always Sunny in Philadelphia! I literally have never made it more than five minutes into that show because I start to feel like a dark cloud is beginning to settle on my soul or something. I have no idea what it is about the writing or acting there, but I get more of a hateful vibe of aggressive misanthropy from that cheapo little sitcom than from even the most grimdark anti-hero drama.
posted by threeants at 1:19 PM on June 18 [8 favorites]


If it were true that we aren't "supposed" to like Hannah or Piper, then why the hell do people want to watch these kinds of shows?

To find out what happened next.
 
posted by Herodios at 1:20 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


Piper Kerman is an executive producer

She's credited as Executive Consultant.
posted by the jam at 1:30 PM on June 18


This woman's reviews of OITNB had me laughing out loud at work. She should write a book.
posted by rcraniac at 1:31 PM on June 18


I've been inside a high security state prison kitchen and my experience (as well as my mother's 20 years and stepfather's 30 years working in minimum and maximum security prison kitchens) comes a lot closer to the show than the article. The kitchen is a relatively awesome place to work (when you consider the perks and other jobs available) and inmates rarely, if ever, did anything to jeopardize that. They got knives from the same cage and chit system shown on the show in the electrical shop. There's big-ass dough mixers. There's fresh food. There's fryers and ovens and huge stoves and chill blast units and giant kettles that you have to stir with a fucking steel canoe paddle.

And the guards aren't supervising the inmates. Sure, there are guards around, but they're not the ones telling the inmates how and what to cook. Direct IM supervision in the kitchen is done by non-CO staff, who make anywhere from $2,378 to 4,468 a month. (COs make $3050-6085 and sergeants up to $7168.)

But hey, there's sure to be differences between state and federal prisons throughout the country.
posted by elsietheeel at 1:35 PM on June 18 [9 favorites]


"But the main character is unlikeable" is only ever leveraged against shows with female leads.

It's not just tv. I was in a French reading club where people hated the book Madame Bovary because Emma Bovary herself was so unlikeable.

Though, personally, I don't dislike Piper (or Emma). I want to scream at her and shake her and tell her to stop and fucking think about things for one damn second, but that's a sign of good drama.
posted by kanewai at 1:35 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


TFA is a really interesting read. But I love this show. And to explain why, I must invoke the Smurfette Principle.

In so many shows, the cast is a bunch of dudes with one real female character. And what is mostly relevant about her is that she's female. She'll have some quirks, but the foregrounded info about her is that she's the girl. Of course there are exceptions to this (Call the Midwife, eg) but it's a super prevalent model for television.

Orange is the New Black totally explodes that model. Because there are pretty much only women in this ecosystem, they're allowed, like Darwin's finches, to fill every niche. Villainous women! Heroic women! Funny women! Serious women! Young women! Old women (and I mean seriously, have you EVER seen another TV show with so many fantastic female actresses over age 50)! It's so great.

Yes, it's probably not a fully accurate portrayal of prison, even minimum security. They kind of cue that with the wittiness of the banter—like, yeah, whatever else is true about incarceration, it probably doesn't feature quite this level of constant wordplay. But it's still an exceptional show for the way it handles gender.
posted by Mender at 1:39 PM on June 18 [47 favorites]


kanewai: I guess, but I don't really care what happens to Piper. I get why she exists, I get her purpose in the show, but she could be shanked and it wouldn't provoke any emotional response in me.

I do care about Poussey and Taystee and many of the rest.

I think drama should make me care about the protagonist, whether they're likable or not.
posted by desjardins at 1:40 PM on June 18


I would like this reviewer to tackle Arrested Development's portrayal of prison next yes please.
posted by offalark at 1:43 PM on June 18 [7 favorites]


I'm sorry that this thread has turned away from the original post - it was an entertaining read, but I am afraid I don't have any perspective* to really expand or criticize it.

Anyway, if I had more time right now, I would actually be willing to go on record as enjoying Piper's characterization from season 2. The show backed off her story as much as they could. I mean, her arc did not even intersect with the main arc of the season (Vee vs . . . everybody), and it was only tangentially related to the admin scandals of Caputo and Fig. I liked that Piper has learned to hold her own in prison. I like that Piper is willing to ply whatever leverage she can to get what she wants. I loved Piper's totally flat-face when she was interrogating Polly in a later season episode. That said, I don't think the show did enough to really explain why Piper can not seem to stay mad at Alex for more than 5 minutes.

I think drama should make me care about the protagonist, whether they're likable or not.


I'm pretty sure that everyone from the creators on down consider this an ensemble show, and that Piper's story was only beefed up in S1 to give the necessary "in" for executive marketing purposes.

*hey! That's kind of what we're talking about!
posted by Think_Long at 1:44 PM on June 18 [5 favorites]


"But the main character is unlikeable" is only ever leveraged against shows with female leads.

I will admit to having given this as my explanation for why I never got into The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Deadwood, or Mad Men. I will also admit to not liking Piper very much and yet really liking OITNB and not liking Sarah very much and yet really liking Orphan Black. So perhaps I am the misandrist exception to the rule.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:50 PM on June 18 [8 favorites]



Have you watched this show yet at all since you were hilariously misinformed about it in the first season's thread?


I was driven to watch it from very shame, actually, although I only got midway through season one. I'm just not into it, but mostly I've been kind of creeped out by a lot of comments from white progressives on tumblr about it.

The intellectually honest thing for me to do would probably be to watch again in eighteen months or so after some of the fuss has died down and I have no incentive to see what I want to see in it.
posted by Frowner at 1:52 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


I thought this passage from TFA was particularly interesting:

So you weren't a smart-ass in prison?

Dude, if you ever saw me in the prison element, you would have thought I was brain damaged. Seriously. How I am now is not how I was in prison. And I don’t mean that in an “it was a long time ago, I've turned my life around” way. I mean that I kept my mouth zipped in prison. I would sometimes go for days and only say maybe five words to people.


The show definitely throws a bone to the idea of emotional shutdown, i.e. with Janae, sometimes Poussey, Piper sometimes as well, etc. but these are really more signifiers than a persistent part of the show's prison life. Obviously this is one of the vectors along which faithfulness and dramatic sensibility are inherently at odds; nobody's going to watch two seasons of silent women shuffling around and trying to keep their heads down. There's always going to be conflict between reality and depiction, but yeah, I think it bears closer scrutiny in a work about incarceration than about, like, high school prom.
posted by threeants at 1:54 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


I wonder what the writer of that article would make of the 1970s UK sitcom Porridge? (1, 2, 3, 4).

(Caution: Clips contain Johnny Vaughan.)
posted by Paul Slade at 1:58 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Just for the record, elizardbits, I think mobunited's intent was:

In a hypothetical world where 1% of children, mostly people of colour and the poor, are sold and eaten, you might have a point.

not

In this actual world where 1% of children, mostly people of colour and the poor, are sold and eaten, you might have a point.

Sorry if I'm wrong, but that was bugging me.
posted by history_denier at 2:01 PM on June 18 [7 favorites]


mobunited: When you use this as the setting for a TV show, you have a tremendous responsibility.

Oh, please.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:03 PM on June 18 [5 favorites]


Man, this article is really thought-provoking. Susan's frequent comments about how generally unguarded Litchfield appears to be make me realize that perhaps this is one of the biggest ways in which the show elides structural aspects of the prison-industrial complex. There are what, like seven, maybe ten distinct people ever depicted working in the entire prison? With about half of those being administrators or counselors? Except a huge part of the reason the prison-industrial complex has been successfully sold to the American people is that it creates jobs. Without that aspect, the whole thing has a slight vibe of "well gosh golly, all these prisoners suddenly showed up; if only we had an infrastructure for detaining and monitoring them!" I know that one of the themes of the show is that Litchfield is supposed to be derelict and mismanaged, even compared to other prisons, but still-- I can see how someone might watch this show and derisively think "summer camp with jumpsuits".
posted by threeants at 2:07 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


I think the small number of guards (notice how they didn't hire anyone to replace the guard they lost in S1) and the cameras that don't work and the phone calls that aren't monitored (much) are all results of, I dunno, **small spoiler alert** the corrupt administration embezzling a crapton of money?

No matter how unsavory Caputo is (and what a nice reminder we got of just how gross he really can be), as he says, things would be better if he was in charge and all he did was not embezzle.
posted by lovecrafty at 2:24 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


I mean, I guess that sort of ties back in to my comment about the writers' level of sophistication. The way the plot is set up, the system has a vague inclination towards decency, whereas it's individual poor-faith actors like Fig who gum up the works. This really side-steps some primary structural issues. The situation at Litchfield is one that may well exist somewhere-- but!-- writers get to choose which stories they tell and I feel it's ok to hold them to their choices.
posted by threeants at 2:35 PM on June 18


I think one important point is very clearly on view in the show, which is that everything takes place in a fictional prison within the federal "Department of Corrections" (D.O.C.) -- which does not exist. The real agency is called the Bureau of Prisons. That allows for some considerable leeway (and probably is the cost of any cooperation they do have with the BOP).

My only access to any reality about this is a lawyer (who was an IT client of mine, rather than vice versa) who went to minimum-security federal prison for a client's tax fraud scheme he insisted to me was not intentional on his part but a prosecutorial misreading of legal asset maneuvering that he'd signed off on -- for what that's worth. He was there for about 30-40 months as I recall. According to him it was pretty boring. Nothing like the Club Med image at all, but nothing like Oz/Supermax either, just a lot of time (cue Regina Spektor) with nothing to do but watch TV, play poker (he was good at that, was a highly ranked online player to the point that before prison people didn't want to play against him), read (old) magazines, and so forth. There were some fights but for the most part verbal stuff, people getting on each others' nerves. Various ethnicities but little overt gang activity or cliché-ed prison rape dominance stuff. I'm not in any contact with him anymore, though, to plumb his sense of this show, but it jibes more or less with what he told me.

Yeah, you want drama, but a very realistic drama about prison life would probably be about as boring as real prison. You know, fifty card games over a period of weeks before two people reach a point where they're not speaking to each other and avoiding each other in the cafeteria, you know? As a literature major I'm pretty much long over the idea that stories have to conform to an objective "reality" -- realism is only one factor in storytelling. Orange has really broken a lot of molds as far as creating fully-fleshed-out female characters interacting outside of stereotypical, socially-narrow bounds, and the prison environment, better or worse, is great at allowing that. On that score, this is such a great show that it overcomes any objections of "realism" that might be leveled at it.
posted by dhartung at 2:39 PM on June 18 [6 favorites]


(To wit: within the OITNB world, the problem around prisoner abuse is not, say, that prison systematically enables or encourages this behavior in various ways, but that the locus is specific baddies like Mendez, who in the show would have been neutralized if the system had its way but was brought back by other specific baddie Fig.)
posted by threeants at 2:44 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Having a hard time finding it on my phone right now, but I recall that the last time OitNB's realism-or-lack-thereof came up as a topic, BitterOldPunk had a bunch of really fantastic comments about how boring and highschooly prison can be. Unless someone else feels like digging, I'll try to find those later.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:47 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


I feel like the show does a decent job of mentioning a lot of real-world issues without making the show a movie of the week MESSAGE show!

There's...
-racial inequity w/r/t sentencing and treatment within the criminal justice system
-the fact that there is so little across-the-board structural-oversight. Not all prisons are the same. one minimum security prison can be much, much worse than another, and that so much is dependent on staff personality and funding
-that the American prison system is built on separating the convicted from the rest of society, not rehabilitating them back into it
-woeful treatment of individuals with mental health problems in prison, and in the world at large that may lead people to prison
-substandard treatment of the ill and infirm in prison
-trans issues in and outside of the criminal justice system
-the way systemic poverty and the war on drugs feeds this system
-the lack of support convicts and ex-convicts receive from the world at large

If you listen to as much voyeuristic aimed-at-the-middle-class-and-priveleged-artistic-class NPR-style storytelling programs (This American Life, The Moth, Risk, Snap Judgment), as I do, you've probably heard a LOT about minimum security prisons, juvenile detention centers, and at least a LITTLE about maximum security prisons, including a lot from Piper Kerman. Some of these individuals have had very similar experiences as the ones in OINTB, a few have had much better experiences (well-funded prisons with badminton courts), and many have had much, much worse.

IMHO no one should have to endure the inhumane treatment that the real life Piper Kirkman saw or experienced and she was very lucky. No one should have to endure the inhumane treatment of the article's reviewer Susan K, and many, many, many more Americans have to endure far worse at the hands of the criminal justice system.

Also IMHO, the show is imperfect and often cartoon-y, but is a net win for the world at large by humanizing convicts, especially guilty convicts, and casting so much across racial, age, size lines and by casting talents like Uzo Aduba, Samira Wiley, and especially Laverne Cox.
posted by elr at 3:06 PM on June 18 [7 favorites]


If you like Orange is the New Black, you should really watch Madea Goes to Jail.

Seriously.
posted by themanwho at 3:09 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


What a weird fucking thread.

METAFILTER.TXT

Can we all agree that ex-smack-addict chick is goddam hilarious and should have her own blog, though? I think that's something we can all get behind.

You know, on this show it’s like an Oil of Olay commercial when these girls shower up. It’s like they all luxuriate under the hot water with all the time in the world. Must be nice. And what’s with the curtains? In what universe do guards want prisoners to have a shower curtain to hide behind?

[In reality] the guards timed it. You had at most five minutes and that was it. Shampoo in your hair, soap in the crack of your ass, whatever, they didn’t care. “OUT! MOVE! OUT!” You learned to get everything taken care of pretty quick. I heard the male prison was the same way. What’s weird is that the prototype prison rape scenario that scares everybody is supposed to happen in the showers, but you’d have to be the fucking Flash in order to actually pull that off.

posted by Sebmojo at 3:11 PM on June 18 [6 favorites]


It kind of gets my goat how "But the main character is unlikeable" is only ever leveraged against shows with female leads. Has anyone ever said that about Curb Your Enthusiasm?

I may be in the minority, but I said this about Breaking Bad. I had to take a long break from that show once it dawned on me how terrible everyone was. Also Six Feet Under, but that goes for all of the characters, male or female. I think Curb Your Enthusiasm and say, Eastbound and Down are bad examples because the entire point of the show is that these guys are total assholes that are to be mocked. Without the main character being unlikeable, you have no comedy and no show.
posted by Hoopo at 3:18 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


dhartung: "fictional prison within the federal "Department of Corrections" (D.O.C.) -- which does not exist. The real agency is called the Bureau of Prisons. That allows for some considerable leeway"

Leeway in that OITNB takes place in an entirely alternate universe.
posted by wcfields at 3:27 PM on June 18


The point of the show is that the main character is supposed to fade in the light of the supporting cast. It intentionally showcases the people who are usually overlooked.
posted by travelwithcats at 3:34 PM on June 18 [7 favorites]


This is very interesting. One thing that I wonder about, though, is the place for realism in story telling and the moral obligation to get it right, but also the idea that story telling is sometimes about creating possible universes in which to tell a story, where some of the details are secondary. So, while a prison might not emulate what we know to be true most of the time, it doesn't matter if the intent was to create this prison (which is not a logical impossibility to consider its existence) because of the story telling opportunities that become available.

Personally, I appreciate realism over most else in story telling, but not everyone does. You can set a stage of your own creation, and still be true to the genre conventions.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:37 PM on June 18


I don't understand why Greg's blatantly, obviously, ridiculously facetious comment led you to make up the most blatantly false factoid in the entire universe.

It was a reference to the fact that 1% of the US adult population is incarcerated.
posted by knapah at 4:14 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Here it is! BitterOldPunk on prison vs OitNb. BONUS: BitterOldPunk on honey buns in prison
posted by Greg Nog at 4:24 PM on June 18 [14 favorites]


And the guards aren't supervising the inmates. Sure, there are guards around, but they're not the ones telling the inmates how and what to cook. Direct IM supervision in the kitchen is done by non-CO staff, who make anywhere from $2,378 to 4,468 a month. (COs make $3050-6085 and sergeants up to $7168.)

So just because this really bugs me - is it even in any kind of prison in the US possible for this whole "one of the inmates runs the kitchen and has complete power over everything about it and starves one of the inmates" thing they have in the show? Note that I only watched about five episodes because I'm not into fiction about people I don't like, so if that gets taken down later in the show I'd be happy to learn about it.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:27 PM on June 18


So just because this really bugs me - is it even in any kind of prison in the US possible for this whole "one of the inmates runs the kitchen and has complete power over everything about it and starves one of the inmates" thing they have in the show?

Carceral institutions in the US can be a lot weirder than you would imagine. Read this New Yorker piece about the Baltimore City Detention Center, for example. If you ever wanted an example of something where a bald retelling of the facts would be dismissed as absurdly improbable fiction, this is it.
posted by yoink at 4:37 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


"I feel like as a writer or producer you do sort of inherit a whole nother level of responsibility along with the semi-realistic prison setting."

Really? Buffy was set in a high school--does that mean that Joss Whedon was irresponsible by introducing the Hellmouth? Holey-moley.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:37 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


It's like how knock-knock jokes have a significant obligation to the state of Nantucket.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:25 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


Did nobody else find the POC prisoners (and hillbilly prisoners, for that matter) one-dimensional and stereotypical? I found what character development they had to be overwhelmed by the "sassy Black woman" or "sexy Latina catfight" nonsense going on in every POC character. I watched the whole first season in hopes it would get better, and it never did.
posted by schroedinger at 7:09 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Could you boil down every character in the show to a stereotype? Yes. Would you lose a lot of the nuance in the character's portrayal if you did? Almost definitely.

People conform to stereotypes sometimes, and that's all right - but that's not all they are. I think Orange is The New Black's real strength is treating all of their characters as human, and bringing that depth to characters that seem to be pretty flat at first (Suzanne, I'm looking at you).
posted by dinty_moore at 7:28 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]


I don't think the humanization of stereotypes renders their use less lazy or damaging. If anything, it validates them to the viewer.
posted by schroedinger at 7:51 PM on June 18


It kind of gets my goat how "But the main character is unlikeable" is only ever leveraged against shows with female leads.

Hate Lena Dunham? You’ll love Llewyn Davis: A case study in sexist double standards
Maybe some viewers really do hate Hannah because she’s a selfish brat. But there’s no better explanation than sexism for so many critics’ willingness to tolerate and even sympathize with Llewyn Davis and Ben Stone and Walter White — while openly yearning for Hannah Horvath to choke. And there are few standards more punishing than the one by which we judge female artists.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:19 PM on June 18 [9 favorites]


if the lady who runs this show wanted to be realistic, most of these flashbacks would be about 8 seconds long.

Here's the problem with this, and the complaint about the snappy dialogue.

It's a story.

You know how every second of most days of your life is pretty boring? You wake up, you piss, you shower, you go to work, you come home, you watch TV, you go to sleep, and repeat the next day?

You're not alone. That's most days, for most people.

And yet, as humans, we live to tell stories. We still pick out the one thing that wasn't like that, and tell other people. Let me tell you about my crazy weekend in Vegas. Let me tell you about the time that I... Let me tell you about this shit my sister just pulled. Whatever.

And from that storytelling impulse comes every narrative form of art that humans do. Theatre. Novels. Films. Television shows. Even certain types of visual art, music, and dance. Let me tell you about this tiny moment in someone's life where they did something other than shit, toil, commute, or sleep.

One could complain of any story that humans tell, from a country song to an episode of The Office to Thomas Pynchon, "Oh, bullshit. Life isn't like that. I never say anything that interesting. Nothing like that ever happens to me." And then one would be a tiresome pedant.

So the author is a tiresome pedant. So what?
posted by Sara C. at 8:24 PM on June 18 [7 favorites]


I've tried pretty hard to take in the whole thread so I really hope I'm not repeating here. My experience is this:

-One tells a story, not from the viewpoint of the many ,but from the viewpoint of the "other." This is Drama, yes?

Piper is as "other" as one can get, for me. Not a single thing about her resonates, except the idea of a person like her. Fascinated. It magnifies and creates drama where mostly there is just "mundane."

-I have to wonder if the folks who complain so bitterly about Piper are more like her than they would like to admit. I find her utterly bizarre, fascinating, as other as any TV character has ever been. FASCINATED by the simple, maybe...but that is where it gets weird.

-her privileged life makes it so impossible to believe that she would end up there- she in reality was part of a pretty serious drug ring. Generally, she did way worse than most of the women serving time with her which is a weird place to start thinking about class, law, power, prison, gender, etc.

Also, Jenji Kohan (yikes, spelling?) made Weeds, which was really good half the time, really painfully stupid half the time. Plot, what a PITA, right Jenji?

Point is...it's TV folks. I'm pretty sure most mob kings aren't tragic, prozac addled neurotics. But it made for good TV.
posted by metasav at 8:34 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


It is really weird, though - like, were the memoirs as self hating as all that, or is that something the showrunners came up with?

I didn't find the book self hating. My feeling was that she probably worked very hard on the tone so that she would not appear to be either self-pitying or self-aggrandizing. The book felt a bit off at times-- starting with the title. But I think that is a hard position to write from and she had to somehow address the fact that some people were going to find her hopelessly privileged and not a good spokesperson for the prison experience. She used a certain amount of irony and self-deprecation.
posted by BibiRose at 8:43 PM on June 18


Did nobody else find the POC prisoners (and hillbilly prisoners, for that matter) one-dimensional and stereotypical? I found what character development they had to be overwhelmed by the "sassy Black woman" or "sexy Latina catfight" nonsense going on in every POC character. I watched the whole first season in hopes it would get better, and it never did.

I'm not sure what you mean by the "sexy Latina cat fight" thing. As far as I recall in the first season, the big plot lines in the first season for the Latina characters were the rivalry between Daya and her mother and Daya's pregnancy, with secondary plots centred on Gloria taking over the kitchen, that one chick who have birth in prison, and the woman who was pretending to be crazy so she could sneak off and sext her boyfriend. Possibly there was some other plot I'm not remembering. But I didn't think any of those was drawing on particularly Latina stereotypes. Unless you mean Daya's mom? She's definitely a bit of a sexpot, but that was also tied into the fucked up relationship she and Daya have, with Daya wanting to be independent of her, but also on some level conceiving of that independence as necessarily involving getting the same kind of attention from men that her mother does, that that's what it means to be a grown woman, to her.

As for the sassy black woman stereotype, I'd say you have a fair point with Black Cindy, with the show often using her character for comic relief. She did get somewhat more depth in a flashback episode this season. The only other character I could see that being applied to is Tastyee, I guess, though I'd call her more ebullient than sassy per see. But she's also one of the most fully drawn characters on the show, and I thought Danielle Brooks did a really find job in giving her a bunch of layers. The other main black characters of the show don't seem to fit that stereotype at all, as far as I can recall --- Watson's a tough jock, Crazy Eyes is Crazy Eyes, and Michelle Hurst's character in the first season was legendarily, fiercely reserved. So if you're saying all the black characters are basically variations on the Sassy Black Woman, no, I don't really see that.

Pensatucky I did feel was flatly written. Her having shot up an abortion clinic was eye-rolling, "Aaron Sorkin at his worst"-type stuff. This season they've laboured to give her a little more depth than just having her be a straight villain. Healy too, for that matter.

Does the show walk the line sometimes, veer over it every once in a while in pursuit of comedy? Yeah, I'd say so. It's not perfect, and I expect it may get worse as it goes on in that respect --- it's a problem with all long term serial narratives, you keep on having to raise the stakes and it's tough to keep the characters grounded because of that. But I think the show aims pretty deliberately at complicating all it's characters, so that even people who seem like one-note background characters are revealed to have different sides to themselves -- the timid, ethereal Yoga Jones turning out to be a murder, for instance.
posted by Diablevert at 9:06 PM on June 18 [7 favorites]


dhartung: "I think one important point is very clearly on view in the show, which is that everything takes place in a fictional prison within the federal "Department of Corrections" (D.O.C.) -- which does not exist. The real agency is called the Bureau of Prisons. That allows for some considerable leeway (and probably is the cost of any cooperation they do have with the BOP)."

The thing that's odd about that detail is that it simply makes Litchfield sound like it's a state prison, which ARE typically under the jurisdiction of [State name] Dept of Corrections. But the real Piper was indeed at a federal prison.
posted by desuetude at 9:50 PM on June 18


Pensatucky I did feel was flatly written. Her having shot up an abortion clinic was eye-rolling, "Aaron Sorkin at his worst"-type stuff.

Yeah, but I liked the twist. Being reminded of it just now actually clears up some confusion I had about Pennsatucky's progress through the second season. Come to think of it, she's actually one of the more layered characters.

Her fake non-teeth in S2, though? Ugh. They would have looked a lot more convincing if they'd been blacked out the old fashioned way.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:52 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


I love Susan K so hard. I nearly peed my pants laughing reading her remarks, except thankfully I'd already gone recently. I wonder if she talks like that while running her business?

I do concur that some shit about that show does seem like "O RLY?" (you get to drive other inmates around?!), but then Susan K herself said that she got let out of jail to work as a waitress. WHAT? That happens?! Not on television either?
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:18 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Work release programs, yup. You hold down an actual job, and spend your non-work time in jail/prison. I worked with a guy on work release - an officer dropped him off and picked him up every day, and he had to wear an ankle monitor.
posted by MissySedai at 11:16 PM on June 18


There have always been prison trustys/trustees. Was it Papillon or some other prison film that had a trusty wandering around with the ring of keys? And that was one of the more notorious penal colonies of all time.
I've got the Blu-Ray in my queue fairly soon. Oh, and if it's a realistic prison (escape) drama you want (I've read the source material, Papillon and its sequel Banco, and they're a bit fanciful), check out the gripping classic Le Trou, also based on a true story.

Indeed, the system of privileges that exists in most prisons historically is an important part of the carrot/stick behavior modification toolkit. Every once in a while you get some elected pol going on a crusade against privileges in correctional institutions, but don't listen to them. I dare say that a prison without even television would be a nightmare to manage.

Here's a blog post about the various levels of privilege, prisoner classification, and housing options for federal inmates. It does seem to suggest that while a prisoner/driver like Morello could easily exist, she would be unlikely to be housed within the general population.
posted by dhartung at 12:42 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


oinopaponton: "It kind of gets my goat how "But the main character is unlikeable" is only ever leveraged against shows with female leads. Has anyone ever said that about Curb Your Enthusiasm? It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia?"

Well I only made it a half a dozen episodes into Mad Men because their isn't a single character on that show who isn't a loathsome human being.
posted by Mitheral at 2:42 AM on June 19 [3 favorites]


Same here for House of Cards. I was just so disgusted by Frank Underwood, even though I like Kevin Spacey just fine, that I had absolutely no desire to continue watching.
But while it might be true on the individual level that people dislike male leads, this type of criticism might be only voiced publicly in the press when it pertains to female lead roles. Would be interesting to research.
posted by travelwithcats at 3:52 AM on June 19


I love the show and I love the fact that these women are not stereotypes at all. Lots of people present themselves as being only one thing to people who are expecting that from them when in reality they are so much more than just their surface and that's what this show is doing for these characters - showing who they are beneath the surface. Having said that, they are fictional characters!

Susan K's comments are excellent and they remind me of my sister's comments about the Australian tv show, Water Rats, which was a soapie about water police. Robyn was one of the first woman to join the water police in Queensland and she couldn't stand the show because it was absolute fiction and there was nothing about it that rang true to her. That was her perspective and she was absolutely entitled to it. Did she want the show off the air? No, although she never hesitated to give her opinion if anyone dared rave to her about how 'true' it was. It's good to have an insiders view to temper things.

As for how anyone can bear to watch or read fiction about people who are unlikeable, my own preference is for realistic characters. The story or background or conceit of the story can be complete fantasy but the character has to ring true and let's be honest, there aren't many people who are without flaws. Consider the Mary Sue and Marty Stu trope and how annoying that is.

I'm looking forward to both season 3 of OINTB and I'd love to read more from Susan K.
posted by h00py at 6:34 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Susan K. is funny and I like reading her perspective, but I even don't understand her thing hating on Nikki's hair (in part 2 of her commentary.) "Big bouncy hair?" Huh? She doesn't exactly look like a shampoo commercial. When you have thick, curly, frizzy hair, the only way to make it not-big is to shave your head.
posted by desuetude at 7:21 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Yeah, even the career counselor at the Dress-For-Success mock job fair remarked on Nikki's hair and that it does not look well-kept...
posted by travelwithcats at 7:38 AM on June 19


Is it me or does Piper's hair look greasier this season? I wonder what hair products they actually allow in prison.
posted by desjardins at 8:20 AM on June 19


Robyn was one of the first woman to join the water police in Queensland and she couldn't stand the show because it was absolute fiction and there was nothing about it that rang true to her.

My mom is an E.R. nurse and spent a very healthy amount of time rolling her eyes at ER when it came out in the 90s.

I'm pretty sure that, if there's a TV show about a given field, people who do that for a living will think it's highly inaccurate. It's important to realize both that TV shows are stories -- so they need to find the most dramatic situations to portray -- and also that the people who make them aren't gods. People who make TV shows have the career of making a TV show. There are a couple of exceptions, but for the most part there isn't a ton of crossover between "person who has been in X dramatic situation" and "person who makes a TV show about X dramatic situation".
posted by Sara C. at 8:29 AM on June 19


Orange is the New Black season 2, as shown via Powerpoint slides.
posted by jeather at 9:12 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Nearly everyone on OItNB was on Law And Order at some point
posted by The Whelk at 9:17 AM on June 19 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that, if there's a TV show about a given field, people who do that for a living will think it's highly inaccurate.

Oh man did anyone see Drinking Buddies? Because lol.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:24 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Nearly everyone on OItNB was on Law And Order at some point

FTFY. (That article introduced me to The Shirts. Now I'm wondering how on earth it's possible I'd never heard of them before now.)
posted by Sys Rq at 9:43 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Have there been any instances of Oz reviewed by an ex-con from a level 4 facility?

Although the "experimental" nature of Emerald City itself kind of frees the show from any sort of actual reality.

Like how does Adebisi keep his tiny hat on?

(Velcro.)
posted by elsietheeel at 10:37 AM on June 19


The St. Elsewhere characters of Dr. Roxanne Turner (Alfre Woodard) and Dr. Victor Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr.) appeared on Homicide: Life on the Street.[9][10] Fontana was the executive producer and showrunner for Homicide for its entire seven years.

The argument of the Tommy Westphall Universe is that because of this fictional crossover, the two series arguably exist within the same fictional universe, and within Tommy Westphall's mind because of the final episode of St. Elsewhere; by extension this hypothesis can therefore be extended to series ranging from the science fiction program The X-Files to the entire Law & Order franchise (due to various crossovers with characters from the Homicide series, in particular Det. John Munch).


Also real life people. So all of existence is a fictional construct. AND WE ARE ALL ON LAW AND ORDER.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:44 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


So just because this really bugs me - is it even in any kind of prison in the US possible for this whole "one of the inmates runs the kitchen and has complete power over everything about it and starves one of the inmates" thing they have in the show?

Not to my knowledge, but again, it's a minimum security federal facility that's chronically underfunded. When my mom worked in a minimum RTC facility they did have lead inmates that helped supervise the other IM workers. I wouldn't say they ran the kitchen, but they did have a bit more power than the others. Extra servings for their friends, etc. And even in a level 4 facility you'd be amazed at what inmates can get away with... stealing food, hiding it to retrieve later, making booze in the kitchen (which is why most prisons have moved to completely artificially sweetened everything), etc. And it's the job of all kitchen staff, CO and non-CO, to investigate anything that's missing, look around for hidden stuff, keep an eye out for suspicious activity, etc.

Oh yeah, and there's a strip down, squat, cough, and lift every time the inmates count out when they leave the kitchen and go back "home". Would you get naked in a cold concrete hallway with a bunch of other people every day for your job?

I convinced my parents to watch OitNB last year and they loved it. Enough to rewatch the 1st season before the 2nd dropped this month. So it may not be totally accurate, but it's close enough for two correctional employees to suspend disbelief and enjoy the hell out of it.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:01 AM on June 19 [4 favorites]


If you lived in Baltimore at the time, it was hard not to be on Homicide.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:01 AM on June 19


AND WE ARE ALL ON LAW AND ORDER.

*Dun Dun*
posted by The Whelk at 11:27 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


So just because this really bugs me - is it even in any kind of prison in the US possible for this whole "one of the inmates runs the kitchen and has complete power over everything about it and starves one of the inmates" thing they have in the show?

The New Yorker recently ran a piece about a Baltimore prison where just about anything seems to be possible.
posted by Paul Slade at 11:35 AM on June 19


"On the other hand, it's giving a voice to a white middle class woman instead of the people most impacted by prison. In a perfect world, Piper is not the person who gets a voice."

In a perfect world, wouldn't she have a voice that didn't supplant the voices of other people impacted by prison?
posted by klangklangston at 11:54 AM on June 19


I really wish I could read that entire New Yorker article, it seems fascinating.
posted by desjardins at 7:53 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


maxsparber: "But, then, when I watch television and an extra in the background goes through a door, I always end up thinking "Jeez, who was that? Where are they going?" "

Paphnuty. It was Paphnuty all along.
posted by scrump at 1:54 PM on June 20 [2 favorites]


Interview with Piper Kernan's actual ex-girlfriend. She claims prison sex happened everywhere.

“Usually what you would do was have sex in your jail rooms,” she explains. “You’d have sex anywhere you could: the tennis court, the outdoor squash court, or the rake pile. Anyplace! When the guards aren’t around all bets are off. Everyone goes to it!”

posted by jenfullmoon at 9:56 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


So far the most egregious inaccuracy I've noticed in Season 2 is how quick her lawyer is to take the prosecutors' side as opposed to advising her in her own interest.
posted by Sara C. at 11:39 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


Her lawyer also hates her guts. And is almost as big a shitheel as his son.
posted by bleep at 11:47 AM on June 21


Which is something that makes much less sense than any of the criticisms leveled in this article.

Piper is an upper middle class woman from Connecticut. She and her family know zero other lawyers except for someone who, in reality, probably wouldn't be able to take her case for ethical reasons? And who she dislikes? And who creates family drama simply by being her attorney in the first place? I get that it's sort of dramatically elegant and creates higher stakes, but it makes no goddamn sense.
posted by Sara C. at 11:57 AM on June 21 [3 favorites]


That's really true, and hard to reconcile. I wonder if it's true to the book.
posted by bleep at 12:11 PM on June 21


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