5 Reasons You Should Be Watching Orange Is The New Black

TV's best show isn't on TV. Deconstructing Netflix's new hit.


The best television show right now isn’t on TV.

Orange Is The New Black kind of snuck up on me when it debuted on Netflix last month — it didn’t have the pent-up emotion connected to Arrested Development or the prestige push that House of Cards did when they debuted on the video streaming service. But the women-in-prison show has quickly become one of my favorite ways to wind down the day, an entertaining mix of comedy and drama that leaves you begging for the next episode.

Oddly, the older show it reminds me most of is Lost. Both create drama by isolating their characters from the rest of the world; both deepen their characters by showing flashbacks to the people they used to be before ending up in this godforsaken place. The main difference — one possibly designed to appeal to a certain Netflix crowd — is the sheer yuppie-friendliness of OITNB, with references to Mad Men, the New Yorker, juice cleanses, Barney’s, and so forth.

It’s not a perfect show, by any means. Our lead — Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman, an aging debutante imprisoned for making a single drug-money-laundering run a decade earlier — too often reacts to strange new events by literally dropping her jaw and gaping at the moment. It’s an acting tic that gets old quick.

That said, OITNB is really good. Here are five reasons you should watch.

1. It passes the Bechdel test.

The test, if you don’t know, asks a couple of simple questions about a TV show or movie: Is there more than one woman in it? Do the women talk to each other? Do they talk about something besides a man? If the answer is yes, your show passes the test — but remarkably few do.

It won’t surprise you: A show in a women’s prison passes the test. A show in a women’s prison, in fact, features much more diversity than we typically see on TV, with plenty of roles for African Americans and Latinas alike. Filling out a quota doesn’t make the show interesting in and of itself, but the creators use these tools to tell interesting stories and explore unusual themes.

2. It’s got a great theme song.

And there aren’t that many great theme songs these days, but Regina Spektor kills it with “You’ve Got Time,” which is probably the best opener outside of Justified these days.

3. It gives adult employment to great teen actors of the late 1990s.

I’ll be honest — it does my heart good to know that Jason Biggs and Natasha Lyonne aren’t just living off of American Pie residuals, and that Laura Prepon has finally found her first good role since That ’70s Show. You worry about those kids, you know?

4. You’ve never seen Kathryn Janeway like this.

My only real experience with Kate Mulgrew was watching her play the no-nonsense captain of Voyager for seven seasons. Watching her play a no-nonsense Russian cook in this show has been a revelation — I almost didn’t recognize her at first.

5. It’s genuinely funny.

The humor ranges from raunchy to sly, and it’s kind of impossible to quote. The best I can offer is a quote from Mulgrew’s character, Red, in an episode called “The Chickening”: “All I wanted was to eat the chicken that is smarter than other chickens and to absorb its power.” In a Russian accent, this is hilarious stuff.

In recent years — post-Sopranos — there’s been a discussion of whether episodic TV has surpassed movies in quality. It’s a young discussion, but it also may be beside the point. If Orange Is The New Black is any indication, we might soon be discussing whether “TV created for the web” surpasses them both. It’s that good.