Monday, August 26, 2013

Orange is the New Black: An Honest Review

I've heard a lot about this show. I've heard it praised to the roof. I've also heard the SPLAT of virtual tomatoes. And you know me -- always willing to weigh in with an opinion. 

I have a friend who always tries to tell me this or that about Game of Thrones -- how it's fantasy porn or how too many people die or how it's not literary or what the author's evil goals are -- when he hasn't seen the show or read the books. I can tolerate the hipsters who don't want to watch something because it's popular. I don't like the hipsters who refuse to watch something and pass judgment on it anyway.

http://www4.pcmag.com/media/images/388164-netflix-original-orange-is-the-new-black.jpg?thumb=y

So to avoid being that person, I sat down and watched Orange is the New Black. 8 episodes of it. [SPOILERS AHEAD] It's very easy to binge-watch. It's kind of like a train wreck -- I can't look away. My favorite character is Piper's roommate, Miss Claudette. I also like Susanne/Crazy Eyes, because she peed on Piper's floor, and Piper is awful. 

Maybe if the main character, Piper, wasn't SO ANNOYING, I would like the show better. I also can't stand her fiance, best friend, or best friend's husband. Think of every stereotype you know about rich white yogurt-eating yuppies, and then dump a canister of Wite-Out over all of that, and that's how white Piper is. They have some good moments, but most of it is stereotyped obnoxiousness.

I had sympathy for the fiance, Larry, until Piper was put in solitary unjustly over Thanksgiving. Then her counselor called Larry and lied about her cheating on him. Instead of calling Piper to see if she was all right and ask HER if she'd cheated, Larry decided to milk the betrayal for more career and fame points, going on NPR and telling all of America that Piper had cheated on him.

Also, Piper is the kind of bisexual/"hasbien" that lesbians and bisexuals can't stand. Just so I'm clear: if you experiment, that's fine...but ripping up other people and breaking hearts under the excuse of "I'm just exploring my sexuality" is low and mean and selfish. The other person should know you're just experimenting. Piper's portrayal is incredibly negative representation for bisexuals.

Here's Piper: "Nope, sorry if this was real for you, I'm just going to break your heart now. Oh, it's ten years later and I'm going to tell you it was real after all and start an affair with you. BUT WE'RE NOT HAVING AN AFFAIR, we're just being human because I need COMFORT. You see, my fiance is outside the prison, so you're my LESBIAN COMFORT OBJECT that I'm using for sex. But don't tell anyone, because once I get out, I'm going back to my fiance and dumping you in the dirt. Again. No hard feelings, right? I mean, I get everything I want because I'm so fucking entitled, so I can have you and him and fame and fortune and a book deal and a TV show, amirite?" 

She. Is. So. Annoying. The ironic thing is that the whole pitch of the show is "yuppie white girl in prison." But I would rather watch all the other characters and their plots. I like those parts of the show. If I'm supposed to be the audience attracted by a character like Piper, fuck it, I'm fucking insulted.

I would also like the show to decide what exactly it is -- comedy or drama. I know, I know, "dramedy" is a thing (but that doesn't mean I have to like it). I like the show when it's serious, but then it goes all "Look at me, look how funny I am! Hahaha!" and I don't feel comfortable with some of the things we're asked to laugh at. It's basically a prison soap opera, which is fine sometimes. Someone's pregnant now, so it really IS a soap opera. It's the Latina girl. 

Because OF COURSE the Latina girl is pregnant. The other pregnant woman in the prison is also Latina. As much as Orange is the New Black does to reveal and break down stereotypes, it does a lot to reinforce them as well.

Man, I don't know about this show. I want to stop watching. But it's the train wreck effect. Well, it also has great writing, plotting, and acting. Also, it has a lot more boobs than a train wreck, and everyone likes boobs, so that makes it harder.

I should probably mention that when they show the f/f sex, it's ALWAYS between two white women. No interracial sex partners. No same-race non-white sex partners. WHITE BOOBS ARE BETTER THAN OTHER BOOBS. Theoretically, TV shows sex scenes when it's relevant to the plot, but we all know they show the sex that people want to see. AKA, white lesbian sex. 

Also, the only interracial couple on the show has resulted in the aforementioned pregnancy. Yes -- they had sex -- but I'm talking about the sex that is shown. Nothing is shown and they cut to black. It's unclear if they even had sex until she gets pregnant; I had assumed it was a BJ in the closet. The same girl later has sex with another man, in an attempt to frame him for rape and protect the real father of her child (Wow, it really is a soap opera. Now all they need is for someone to recover their lost memory). He pulls out a condom, and it cuts as she leans over, both of them fully clothed. 

You can have an interracial couple, but you can't show them doing anything. You can have a bigger girl, but you can't show her naked -- because that would take screen time away from all the naked, skinny white girls, most of whose relationship subplots aren't nearly as important as your XL-sized, Latina girl's. THE FACT THAT SHE HAS PENETRATIVE INTERCOURSE IS AN ACTUAL PLOT POINT, not just filler, but apparently we can't show that. 

And sure, maybe the actress didn't want to film a sex scene or a nude scene. But let's go back to what I said before: her character arc is dominated by this romance and her pregnancy, but I didn't realize that she'd even had sex with this guy. Showing that she'd had intercourse with him is kind of important, don't you think?

Oh and another thing: Piper is either straight or a lesbian...there is literally no discussion of her being bisexual. The word bisexual is never even said. She describes herself as a "former lesbian" who went back to being straight. Alex says, "I should've known -- never fall in love with a straight girl." Bisexuals don't even fucking exist in the world of this show, at least not in a way that anyone talks about. Piper must "choose" to be lesbian or "choose" to be straight. 

See why I'm bothered by this? Sexuality is not a choice. For bisexuals, sexual partners are a choice, and Piper's choice between her male fiance and her female ex-lover is legitimate. But equating choosing a male or a female sex partner as "choosing to be straight" or "choosing to be a lesbian" is misleading and damaging to people's perceptions of what gay, straight, and bi mean.

ARGH.

I don't hate this show. I've just heard people laud it as the least racist, sexist thing that's ever existed -- which it's not -- and condemn it as the most racist, sexist thing that's ever existed, which it's also not. It does many things right. It does many things wrong. It is a step in a good direction for TV...though it probably only gets away with so much because it's not on TV; it's on Netflix. 

I also realize that some stereotyping is unavoidable...but they could have done a better job. Especially with the "choose your sexuality" arc. If it was presented in a different way, I wouldn't mind. Instead, her bisexuality -- excuse me, I mean her "choice" between gay and straight; there are no bi people on this show -- is presented as yet another aspect of her entitlement.

ARGH AGAIN.

The show fascinated me enough that I watched 8 episodes, so that's a point in its favor. I liked how backstory was gradually revealed in flashbacks. But mostly, the main feeling it elicits from me is annoyance. There are plenty of other great shows I can watch that don't annoy me half so much, so why would I stick with this one?

On the other hand, I'm invested enough that I want to know what happens next. Pensatuckey is in the psych ward and Piper is trying to get her out. I predict she tries to murder Piper (because who wouldn't?). 

Let's put mental illness on the list of things Piper Gets Wrong. It does not matter if Piper was mean to her or if she manipulated her; Pensatuckey clearly needs help. Piper intends to take her away from that help -- OK, a prison psych ward is a shitty approximation of "help" but at least she'll get doctors, attention, and meds. But no, Piper wants to do another misguided good deed. She wants to "save" someone else. (The rich white savior complex has been a pillar of her personality from day one.) 

Here's yet another show/movie that portrays medicating mental illness as the worst thing you can do to a person, and I'm fucking sick of hearing that "message." 

Mental illness is real illness; it deserves and needs medical help. Not a Piper to "save" someone from it. 

Sigh. I would ARGH a third time but I'm done here. It's not a terrible show, but the gap between what it claims to be and what it really is is wide.

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