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Orange Is the New Black
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Orange Is the New Black is a mature dramedy set in a women's prison with strong language and sexual situations. The women prisoners talk very frequently about race and may fling racial insults at each other. There are many four-letter words, usually used in a mocking or mild context: "Get the f--k out of here," one prisoner tells another who is taking too long in the shower. Viewers also will see nudity, including breasts and backsides, and both male/female and lesbian couples having sex. Drugs are mentioned frequently, usually in the context of criminal justice, but characters very rarely drink alcohol on-screen. A subplot revolves around smuggled cigarettes; characters smoke enthusiastically on-screen. One character falsely accuses another of rape to cover up a consensual affair. Violence is fairly rare, but characters are killed or die suddenly on-screen in rare episodes; a brutal stabbing contains blood, gore, and realistic noises.
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What's the story?
Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) barely remembers the person she was 10 years ago -- the person who was so in love with her intoxicating girlfriend she was willing to transport a suitcase full of drug money for her. But the law has a long memory. And now, in ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, Chapman starts her 15-month sentence in a women's prison to pay for her crime. She's terrified, but her fiancé, Larry (Jason Biggs), urges her to see it as an adventure; he'll wait for her. And so she dons her blue prison shoes ("They're like Toms!" Chapman dopily tells the officer checking her in) and her orange prison jumpsuit and starts learning the ropes in prison. Chapman makes a lot of mistakes, but the funny thing is that, for as many people who are ready to take advantage of her, there are numbers on the other side ready to help her: new friends, new enemies, new lessons to learn in the world she's just plummeted into.
Is it any good?
A beautiful moment occurs in the first few minutes of Orange Is the New Black that signals the viewer that this drama is more realistic than most. The night before she's to go to prison, Chapman gropes her fiancé, whispering to him that she needs to make memories to "spank" to. He responds lustily, whereupon she tells him to hang on, she needs to pee. The camera follows her into the bathroom where she sits on the toilet and cries. What a rare thing to see depicted on-screen; a human being in a non-glamorous, kinda stupid, utterly relatable bad moment. Made by the same minds who brought Weeds to life, Orange is like Weeds in that it has a lovely and vulnerable woman at its center, caught in a web of other women (and a few men) who are alternately menacing and loving. Also like Weeds, Orange has a simply incredible cast, filled with people you love and hadn't realized you'd missed. There also is a bevy of lesser-known actors with whom viewers will quickly fall in love, such as the touchingly vulnerable Samira Wiley as the lovelorn Poussey and wisecracking Danielle Brooks as her best friend, Taystee.
As viewers watch, they slowly realize that Piper's story is just an entry point into the stories of Litchfield's inmates, a sort of Trojan horse that draws in viewers before the series reveals its true aim: to explore the lives of characters the likes of which we don't often see on TV. Old women, fat women, women of color, lesbians, poor women, those who have made mistakes and regret them, those who have made mistakes because the deck was stacked against them. This is HBO-level drama, addictive, layered, and very, very funny. It's made for binge-watching, but most parents will want to reserve it for after the kids are in bed, due to the strong language, mature situations, and plenty of sexual content.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how realistic the show is. Would you be surprised to know it's a true story? Which of the characters seem the most realistic to you? Which backstories do you relate best to? Why?
If you read the book Orange Is the New Black, how did the characters change in translation to the screen? What does this say about the difference between telling a story in written and cinematic form?