The comedy-drama Orange Is the New Black was a surprise hit few saw coming. The 13-episode Netflix original series is based on a memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman. In Kerman's book, she chronicles her experience as an inmate at the minimum-security prison FCI Danbury. The show itself focuses on the prison “adventures” of protagonist Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) as she navigates the treacherous waters of a fictional federal prison in Litchfield, NY.
Orange Is the New Black (OITNB) features a multicultural, ensemble cast. In fact, the characters surrounding Piper represents the show's greatest strength. My personal favorite is Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox), a transgender woman who runs the hair salon. I about died of happiness when the camera invited me, the viewer, to take the first revelation of her transgender nature seriously (as opposed to it being played for laughs). OITNB is a very female-centric show, but one with immense cross-over appeal.
OITNB is superbly written and acted. It also delves into a subject that's traditionally been explored mainly in film. I use the term “explored” loosely since I'm referring to the history of “women in prison film.”
The show has its share of inmates duking it out before leering guards and T&A titillation, but it presents a far more nuanced—and at times gut-wrenching—portrayal of incarcerated women.
It also features a lesbian love story. Emphasis on story, not romance. The relationship between Piper and her old flame, Alex (Laura Prepon) is complicated, messy, hot, and angst-ridden. The show has elements of romance, but doesn't follow romance genre conventions.