Co-developed by Jenji Kohen, who was responsible for Weeds, and starring Taylor Schilling, it’s the tale of a ‘normal’ New Yorker whose brief flirtation with law-breaking comes back to haunt her and sees her dumped in prison for a year.
I’ve only recently got around to watching Weeds, to my shame, and am currently almost halfway through, but I can already see plenty of its style in OITNB.
Schilling has a tough act to live up to as the central character, with Mary-Louise Parker‘s performance over eight seasons one of the best starring female roles in TV history, but in the premiere, there’s plenty of reasons to believe she can pull it off.
Her character, Piper Chapman, is your trademark ‘innocent person thrown into the hell out jail’, except she isn’t innocent. She’s not a hardened criminal, but she made a mistake and is paying the price.
So far she doesn’t seem at all cut out for prison life, despite the revision she did before it, and while she’s found some seemingly sympathetic ears, she’s also found that she can’t rely on them much.
And she’s insulted the canteen chef (an almost unrecognisable Kate Mulgrew from Voyager) accidentally, which isn’t likely to work in her favour. Not when all she gets offered to eat is a bloody tampon.
We’ve all seen enough prison films and TV shows to know what boxes need to be ticked, and OITNB ticks them off early on (shower confrontations, lesbians of various levels of aggression, pervy male guards, unfriendly butch female guards) and even makes verbal reference to HBO show Oz.
There’s also Piper’s homelife to factor in, and a fair bit of the first episode is flashbacks to her wild days with her ex-girlfriend (who just so happens to be in the same prison as her) and her current fiance, a typically awkward Jason Biggs.
The hour-long first episode flew by, with the extended run-time giving Kohen more scope than the half-hour slot Weeds had, and there’s plenty of scope for it to develop.
Will Piper (or Chapman, as she’s called inside) grow into a Walter White-style kingpin, ruling the prison with an iron fist? It seems unlikely so far, but you’d have said the same after the first episode of Breaking Bad.
The joy of great television is the journey it can take you on and this looks like one that’s worth taking.