Netflix to the Rescue: How ‘Orange is the New Black’ Saved a TV Addict from Withdrawals

Photo Credit: Netflix

How a storm, power outage and dead cable box lead to the discovery and mass consumption of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black.

As I sit here typing this, I’m a week into a house sitting job for a former professor of mine.  For the past three years, I’ve stayed at his place for varying lengths of time and taken care of his Labrador and beagle. They’re quite the handful.

Of course, none of this is especially relevant, really, because this is TVSource Magazine, not the Dogsitters Journal.  And while it might not seem like it, I’m writing about my recent misadventures in television.

This past Sunday night, I returned from Collective—a faith community I recently started visiting in my area—to find that the cable box wasn’t on. When I had left, the weather was starting to get pretty nasty and while I was listening to some great music and some great words, the sky burst open like a worn out waterbed. I have to assume that the power went out and my professor’s poor DVR just couldn’t handle the resultant surge that followed. No amount of button mashing or over the phone assistance could bring it back.

Now, I was quite distraught. I don’t want to say my world revolves entirely around TV, because I’m an equal opportunity pop culture junkie. However, I had just welcomed The Newsroom back into my life after a lengthy wait and I’ve been hooked on Devious Maids for the past month. Fortunately, my DVR at home has them both recorded and waiting for me, but that’s beside the point. Television is addictive. I needed an immediate fix.

Cue Netflix.

Typically, I don’t do binge television watching, but sometimes life demands it. While I was finishing my master’s thesis, I missed out on a couple months worth of my favorite shows.  I only just caught up on Revenge a couple weeks ago after a DVR binge. During another house sitting stint earlier this summer, I was sick and absolutely miserable, but I devoured the new season of Arrested Development and the entirety of Freaks and Geeks thanks to my former professor’s Netflix account.

Netflix gave me just what I needed.  And what I needed was Orange Is the New Black. If you’re uninitiated, don’t feel bad. Despite being a rabid TV watcher, I’m rarely watching what’s “cool.” I mean, I’ve watched Mad Men on occasion, but do I regularly watch it? Nope. I know, I know. This is a personal fault.  I’ll remedy it someday. Here’s the Spark Notes take on the show: A privileged white woman gets ratted out by her one time lesbian lover for helping her traffic drug money once years before and gets sentenced to fifteen months in prison. In prison, shenanigans ensue while her fiancé, friends, and family adjust to her new status quo from the outside. The show was born out of Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name.

Watching the first episode of OITNB made me feel positively… trendy.  It also made me feel like I needed to watch the next twelve episodes as soon as possible. Now, I must make a disclaimer: I actually watched the first few episodes the Saturday night before the cable box gave up the ghost, but that tragic loss provided me with no other reasonable avenue for entertainment. I mean, besides the numerous books I have to read and the entire internet.

Anyway, Orange Is the New Black.  As someone who suffered through the occasional episode of NBC’s medical drama Mercy back in 2009, OITNB completely turned my opinion of Taylor Schilling around. Piper Chapman, the show’s well meaning but self-involved jailbird protagonist, can be annoying, but Schilling does such a compelling job playing her that I can’t help but love the character anyway. Watching the show actually makes me happy for her, because she’s found a role that both works for her and makes me want to see more work from her.

Of course, Chapman’s occasional bouts of being insufferable would be a major hindrance to the show if not for the incredible cast of characters that occupy Litchfield Prison with her. Crazy Eyes, played to perfection by Uzo Aduba, is one of my personal favorites. She frequently lives up to her nickname, but when she asks Chapman why everyone calls her that, your heart can’t help but ache a little bit. Then there’s the soap opera playing out with Daya and Bennett. Their portrayers Dascha Polanco and Matt McGorry have a great vibe together and the drama that plays out between their initially innocent flirtations all the way through the scheming over Daya’s eventual pregnancy makes for a great supporting storyline.

Those are just a selection of the things that kept me going from episode to episode. Taryn Manning’s unhinged Christian zealot Pennsatucky, Constance “Patti Mayonnaise” Shulman’s calm and collected yoga instructor Yoga Jones, and Beth Fowler’s wise nun Sister Ingalls plug the show into a diverse discussion of religion and spirituality that doesn’t feel ham-fisted. Similarly, transgendered actress Laverne Cox gives viewers the opportunity to grapple with transgender issues with her character Sophia Burset.  While this all might sound a bit preachy, the show never takes it to a level where it isn’t entertaining.  The ability to both tackle issues while keeping an audience entertained is a difficult one to master, and I’ll just say, this isn’t Glee. (Not that I don’t love Glee, but we all know what I’m talking about here.)

With no alternatives—you know, besides reading or applying for jobs—I powered through the first season of Orange Is the New Black. Though honestly, I think I would have been transfixed even if I didn’t have a dead DVR as an excuse.  It’s a dangerous combination when a show that’s so well constructed releases an entire season at once, because you really can’t bring yourself to pull away from it once it starts. This is one of the reasons I’m more of a traditional television viewer. I’m easily distracted as it is without blocks of amazing television to stumble upon. Case in point? I finished the show nearly a week ago. I’ve had cable back nearly as long. So what took me so long to finish this piece?

I had to start, and then finish, watching House of Cards. I think I have a problem.

Kenneth Lane
An occasionally ridiculous human being who will talk your ear off if you let him, recently earned his Master of Arts in English. While figuring out what he’s doing next, he’s dealing with his self diagnosed pop culture hoarding problem.

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1 Comment

  1. Kenneth, the way you depicted the hunger and drive to blow through the whole series was precisely how I was feeling as I watched the whole show in a 12+ hour binge, spread over three days.

    The best part about reading this is that the characters that intrigued you and kept you going were some of the ones that weren’t what I would consider main players. You’re probably the only person who hasn’t referenced “Hot Donna” in your article, which I admire. I have to agree, I’m looking forward to Crazy Eyes’ character to develop more and show some more of that emotional struggle we got to see in the last few episodes.

    I really enjoyed reading your review – looking forward to your reflections on the House of Cards…I binged on that one, too.

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