Jenji Kohan's 'Orange Is the New Black'

Orange Is the New Black
Taylor Schilling (middle) stars a jailbird Piper Chapman in Jenji Kohan’s Netflix series, ’Orange Is the New Black.’

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black has already been renewed for a second season after the July-released comedic prison drama created by Jenji Kohan ("Weeds")  and starring Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman generated a huge buzz.

The 13 one-hour episodes drew the largest audience of the three original shows thus far from Netflix, surpassing House of Cards and Arrested Development. You just can't stop watching.

While Schilling appears as fresh talent in a leading role for a series, Orange Is the New Black delivers some familiar faces in different roles. Laura Prepon, famous from That '70s Show, co-stars as Piper's ex-lover who triggers her prison sentence by employing her as a money smuggler for an international drug cartel. The 10-year statute of limitations on some drug laws lands her in federal prison even though she only committed the crime once during a wild time in her early 20s.

Two cast members from American Pie weigh in. Jason Biggs deftly takes up the role as Piper's befuddled fiancé and Natasha Lyonne seems at ease playing a wised-up club kid now living drug-free.

Even better, Kate Mulgrew, formerly Capt. Janeway on Star Trek: Next Generation, portrays a Russian mobstress so mean the guards are afraid of her.

Weeds fans will also recognize Michael Harney, who plays a prison authority (he was a cop on Weeds).

Tapping into the bestselling memoir by Piper Kerman, Kohan delivers her trademark cliffhanger plot points, packed with big dramatic swings from terror to comedy to tenderness.

The personal stories of the inmates drive the series, with convincing method acting and great writing. The show illustrates how people's lives reflect their environment. Piper gets transformed from her safe, straight Yuppie existence into a jaded prisoner, forced to tap into her primal self to survive. It's not easy. Prison changes everyone, including the guards hired to watch the inmates.

Captivating and thought-provoking, Orange Is the New Black inspires water-cooler talk around some serious issues: drug prohibition, race, sexual relationships, public corruption and the meaning of justice, to name a few. But it's also entertaining, poignant and always revealing.


Matt Chelsea

Matt Chelsea

Loves a nice morning buzz with his coffee as a bicycle commuter, counterculture scribe and dad.