Film & Television

Netflix Review: ‘Orange is the New Black’ — The Bad Girls Club is Back

That’s really what has made the show so engaging and truly much more powerful than Kerman’s immensely readable memoir. The book was an inside story told by an outsider. Although she did learn about herself and achieve an appreciation for a group of women she would never have otherwise met, Kerman remained a privileged, educated, upper middle class white woman. Her very ability to articulate her story (and then to reap great benefits from telling it) separates her from her fellow inmates.

In the Netflix series, the initial season focused on Piper’s story and it made for fairly comfortable watching. She was awkward and naive; her family was concerned and confused; her fiancé supportive and faithful (until he wasn’t anymore). By seasons two and three, however, the writers had expanded the show and, in essence, made Piper less exceptional. Sure, she didn’t deserve to be there, but neither did so many others. And even those who had committed fairly serious crimes (there’s more than one murderer at Litchfield) were still victims of the United States’ deeply flawed penal system, which disproportionately incarcerates minority and impoverished women, including mothers of small children. According to The Sentencing Project, more than 60% of women in state prisons have a child under the age of 18.

In season four, Orange is the New Black is focusing on the privatization of prisons, and the ethical issues that come with that trend. If people, whether they are state officials or entrepreneurs, are literally being paid a per inmate fee ($30,000 a year), where is the incentive to keep people out of prison or to effectively rehabilitate them so they don’t return? The new order makes many of OITNB’s most desperate stories all the more so.

Critics who have already watched the entire fourth season are warning that it’s the darkest one yet, with a more oppressive institution and a brutal new villain. However, response to date has also been unanimously and enthusiastically positive. After a game-changing finale last season, which was simultaneously joyous and terrifying, there is no way to predict where the show is headed. And that’s why we keep coming back.

Of course, if you’re an Orange is the New Black fan, you may have already watched it. All 13 new episodes of OITNB are available to stream on Netflix, as are seasons one, two, and three.

You can binge if you want to; after all this is a free country. Unless, like 1.2 million women and girls in the U.S. today, you’re behind bars.

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