Orange is the New Black

I almost didn’t give Orange is the New Black a chance, based simply on hating the title. It suggested to me that we’d be watching “Elle Woods Goes to the Big House.” I envisioned a main character who would apply for dispensation to wear Manolos with her jumpsuit, or teach her cell mates whatever is the 2013 equivalent of the bend-and-snap.


A show about a woman going to prison, produced exclusively for Netflix, could as well go the other way: all rape-y and terrifying. Also not something I was eager to embrace.

Somehow, this show–evidenced by the pilot–pulls off a delicate balance of realism, drama and humor. I was surprised at how much I laughed. More amazing, it actually made me, an average middle-class white woman look at the central character, Piper (Taylor Schilling), and think, “That could be me.” If, somehow, I had done something in my past that came back to bite me in the ass, I would totally go on Amazon and buy books to prepare for prison. Continue reading


So Mercy is supposed to be about strong women. This show is earnestly trying to tell us at lot of Truths: that war vets deserve our respect, that nurses can be as smart and competent as doctors, that the human spirit triumphs over adversity… but the message I got out of it was that women fall for men who stalk them.

What is with these female characters and their suitors who just stroll idly into a hospital, traipsing into patients’ rooms and interrupting hospital business? Despite some obligatory kicking and screaming, the women inevitably cave. And no supervisor ever says, “Hey, can you get your ex-husband out of this dying old lady’s room?”

Let’s back up a minute. We meet Ronnie (Taylor Schilling) as she is having a nightmare about being shot while a radio report about a memorial service for a soldier plays in the background. She wakes, in what is apparently her girlhood bedroom with her mother smoking a cigarette over her. Mommy dearest yells something about  Ronnie needing to take back her husband, in light of what Ronnie’s parents shelled out for the wedding.

The next scene is far more powerful and might have been a better point of attack. Ronnie witnesses a car accident and springs into action to save the life of the driver. She saves his life using a soda straw and gets him safely to the hospital, only to have the victim’s fiancé tell her off for being “just a stupid nurse.” That moment paints a clear picture of Ronnie as a smart, capable, and chronically underestimated woman; a character an audience could respect. Even when we learn more, that this hardass veteran who takes Paxil but isn’t intimidated by authority or cowed in the face of bodily fluids, she seems like a protagonist we can root for.

Then we get into the relationship stuff. Ronnie is estranged from her cheating husband, Mike (Diego Klattenhoff), and lives with her liquor-soaked parents and younger brother Bobby—the offspring appear to follow in their parents’ alcoholic footsteps. Her best friend at work is the sexy Sonia (Jaime Lee Kirchner), who is playing games with a lawyer she likes while also being courted by a cop. Further complicating the picture, Ronnie is screwing around with—and possibly in love with—a fellow soldier who is now coming to work at the same hospital.

The hospital atmosphere is Scrubs-like; a mixture of irreverent humor and touching, music-filled moments of human connection. There are some wryly funny moments, like this one: “We’re gonna go get a drink, do you wanna come?” “I’d love to, but first I just have to kill Mr. Weintraub.”

Every workplace pilot has to have a character whose first day it is. In this case that’s Chloe Payne (Michelle Trachtenberg), the sympathetic character if only because she isn’t falling at the feet of some macho douchebag. That is, until the episode’s final moment when all three of the female characters are mooning over a hot bartender. Really? This is how educated, battle-hardened women behave?