Over the years, I’ve watched a lot of movies about prisons. Roll out a list of your favorite and best known actors (past and present) and they’ve done a prison film.
From Paul Newman (Cool Hand Luke) to Clint Eastwood (Escape from Alcatraz), from Burt Lancaster (Birdman of Alcatraz) to Sean Penn (Bad Boys), from Daniel Day-Lewis (In the Name of the Father) to Dustin Hoffman (Papillon), from Steve McQueen (Papillon) to Burt Reynolds (The Longest Yard), from Morgan Freeman (Shawshank Redemption) to Tom Hanks (Green Mile), and Robert Redford in Brubaker – the list is endless.
And that’s not even taking into consideration prisoners of war movies, or the lengthy list of exploitative women behind bars films made in the 70’s or even Sylvester Sly Stallone who has done a whole raft of prison films.
No one aspires to go to prison, yet films of life behind bars seems like a fertile ground for film makers because prison films sell tickets and interest people from all walks of life.
Now showing on Netflix, is a brand new series which premiered at 3:10 AM this past Thursday (July 11th). It is called Orange is the New Black and all 13 episodes are available for your viewing pleasure. You can opt to watch them over a period of two weeks, two months, or you can do what is known as binge-watching and see all of them in one or two sittings.
The central character is Piper Chapman played by Tayor Schilling. When we meet her, she’s arriving at Litchfield, a federal lockup for women somewhere in New York. Chapman once worked (10 years ago) as a mule for an international drug cartel. She carried a suitcase filled with money. Once. And now she is serving a 15 month sentence. She was also involved in a lesbian relationship with Alex Vause who recruited her for the cartel. Vause is played by Laura Prepon who is also incarcerated in Litchfield.
Chapman is an attractive blonde and despite her past, is currently engaged to one Larry Bloom played by Jason Biggs. Over the course of the series, some of the episodes will have flashbacks for many of the main inmates so we can see something of their back stories and how they got themselves behind bars.
As Chapman is a newbie, what we will see is all about settling in, getting accustomed to the rules, procedures, and all the other stuff that she didn’t know when she arrived, but she will have to learn over time.
In the trailer, we see and hear a key exchange.
Chapman’s Mom: You’re nothing like any of these women.
Chapman: I am no different from anybody else here. I committed a crime. Being in here is no one’s fault but my own.
The series was created by Jenji Kohan who was also at the helm of the popular Weeds series. While no will confuse this series with OZ, and no will say that this is hard-time, it is an eye-opening experience for us as well as Piper. There are decent people serving time, and there are others that will make you distinctly uncomfortable. And the same can be said for those that run the prison.
Here is how Netflix describes the series: a heartbreaking and hilarious new series set in a women’s prison. Piper Chapman’s wild past comes back to haunt her, resulting in her arrest and detention in a federal penitentiary. To pay her debt to society, Piper trades her comfortable New York life for an orange prison jumpsuit and finds unexpected conflict and camaraderie amidst an eccentric group of inmates.
So far, despite being billed as a comedy drama – this is not fun most of the time. The comedy is way more subtle than obvious, and so far, the series doesn’t even come close to be called ‘hilarious’.
And I wouldn’t call the group of inmates ‘eccentric’. They are women who are serving time for crimes. That doesn’t mean that they’re all violent and disturbed – and yet, despite this being a minimum security prison – they live in dorms rather than cells – you are not going to like all that many of them initially.
Chapman is set up for us to feel sympathetic to her plight, but I think our sympathy wanes very quickly. You still root for her as she learns the ropes, but that isn’t the same as feeling sympathetic towards the character.
Watch for an almost unrecognizable Kate Mulgrew as a Russian prisoner, Galina ‘Red’ Reznikov, out of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, who is in charge of the kitchen for the prison commissary. When the newbie Chapman publicly calls the prison food ‘disgusting’ – there are consequences.
Chapman will also attract the interest of a prisoner called Crazy Eyes, and Chapman will find that letting Crazy Eyes know that she’s not interested will not be an easy task.
Yes, at least in the first episode, there are some quick scenes of nudity (shower-room), and some quick sex. But these lessen as the series proceeds, so it is quite fair to say that the series will not pander to prurient interests, and it is also fair to say that the sex and nudity are not gratuitous.
Chapman: I wasn’t ready. Mendez: Tough shit!
You should be able to get a very feel for the series from the trailer below. Take note of how very, very different life is behind bars. One of the main differences is the lack of privacy. Check it out.