For those of you who haven’t heard about this….oh, hang on……of course, there isn’t anyone one left in the western world that hasn’t heard about this show. This Netflix exclusive online offering is based on a book by Piper Kerman, which although I haven’t read it yet has some cracking reviews on Amazon.
Piper,(played by the ever frowning Taylor Schilling), the heroine, finds herself in prison ten years after committing a crime of drug trafficking. Whilst Piper seemed to have a fairly epic life in her youth, which we see through flashbacks, her life immediately before going to prison seems a bit boring. Apart from being engaged to the apple pie-shagging bloke from American Pie she co-runs a kind of Lush cosmetics company with her best friend. She’s the All American girl next door, but through the flashbacks we see her past as a wild and crazy lesbian with a steaming hot girlfriend.
The premise of the show is all around Piper’s trials and tribulations and her inability to be ‘normal’ in prison. She’s awkward and incapable of fitting in with the strange band of inmates around her. There are some great characters in this show, real well developed characters that are actually more memorable than Piper, but I think that’s how it’s meant to be, that’s it’s strength.
Early on in the series Piper manages to piss off Red, the prison cook. Red is played by Kate Mulgrew, (hell yeah, Capt Janeway), and she is top drawer. Red starves Piper and uses her influence over the other women to make sure Piper doesn’t get so much as a jellybean until she works out how to make amends. Luckily Piper uses her cosmetics skills to make a balm for Red’s aching back which means she can now get back on the chuck wagon. These are the typical day to day challenges for Piper in the Pen that keep loads of people watching and ensuring that season two is already commissioned.
Ok, ok, so about the women. There are lots of sub stories and relationships going on, but the real kicker is that Piper’s drug overlord, ex-girlfriend Alex, (played by Laura Prepon), is also doing porridge, now how do you like them potatoes?! This leads to many sexy flashbacks of Piper and Alex frolicking in days gone by when the price of heroine had topped out and Alex was minted. They were obviously a hot item, but now Piper can barely stand to set eyes on Alex. Sad how these things go.
As mentioned we have Red, the Russian cook with mafia leanings, Crazy Eyes who wants Piper to be her prison wife and mercilessly stalks her until being rebuffed – big style. Ever the lesbian, Natasha Lyonne, plays Nicky a drug addict who sees Red as her new mom. The token butch Big Boo is played brilliantly by Lea DeLaria, a big hearted softy, she has a string of prison wives and cares for ‘Little Boo’ a prison pooch. Between the women, the guards and the outside friends and family there is a huge range of things going on. It’s easy to follow and very engaging, sometimes slipping in to comedy and other times melancholy. The use of flashbacks makes the programme for me as we get to see the women as they were, before prison. They all had lives and loves. Some were happy and some were sad but they are more than just prisoners with problems.
Considering this is essentially an online production the quality is great. The characters draw you in and you start to care a little about them. For me Piper is a bit lame, and annoying, but to be frank it isn’t all about her. I’m not sure if the second season will be as big a hit as the first, but hey if it isn’t we’ve always got Wentworth to fall back on.
SCORE ON THE DOORS
- STORIES 4 STARS
- CHARACTERS 4 STARS
- SEX 4 STARS (mainly for the flashbacks)