I loved House of Cards and went back to see the British predecessor. It, too, was quite impressive as F.U., Frances Urquart fought his way to power by any means necessary, including murder. It stretched plausibility at times as did the Kevin Spacy version but it made me feel as if Netflix was the new player in town.
I’m not so sure anymore.
Orange Is the New Black has the seductive Here-Is-a-World-You-Can-Immerse-Yourself-in-for-a-Long Time quality of House of Cards and classic TV shows from The Wire to Mad Men. Prison is a great set up in that sense and the flashbacks that gradually flesh out the characters and help us understand their actions–why Red would hate a somewhat privileged, smug preppy girl (our hero), for example, becomes very clear from her past humiliations–add density and texture to it all.
But I may have seen too many classic B movies sets in prisons or Midnight Express or Genet’s Un Chant d’Amour to buy the convenient division of roles and types that get played out with a pastel tinted emotional palette. Lots of innuendo, little action. Lots of predictability, few surprises. And plausibility seems stetched at almost every moment Piper Chapman, our hero, (played by Taylor Schilling) is on screen with her well coifed hair and model looks. Her cluelessness can be an attraction, for a while, and her former lesbian self and the partner who saw to it that she did time, at the same jail, add a bit of complexity–or is it titillation?–to her character but when the series begins with the shower scene, the inevitable–for cable–bare breasts, and a healthy dollop of comment on them by another inmate we know that pandering is not beneath the writing and directing crew.
That we enter a women’s prison and experience a new form of dynamic, very different from the male prison films I referred to, could be a great plus but when I think of what Lena Dunham did to the girlfriends banding together formula with her series Girls, I feel more opportunities have been missed than seized.