I’m as excited as anyone to watch the upcoming season of Orange Is The New Black. Like millions of others, I crammed through those episodes like I had an exam on them the next morning. I’m currently halfway through the audiobook in hopes of gleaning for insight on the second season. The series’ theme, You’ve Got Time, is one of the top songs on my workout playlist. I think it’s safe to say I’m a big fan.
But recently I had a “Eureka” moment. I realized that Piper’s real story, in and of itself, wasn’t all that remarkable. They added and altered so much for the TV series. It’s like they caked the original story with makeup.
One major plot point in the series is the fact that Piper and Alex are in the same prison. The real Alex, whose name is actually Catherine Wolters, has recently come out and said that she and Piper never had sex in prison and were only in the same jail for five weeks. That fact does nothing to diminish the appeal of the show if we are able to separate the work of fiction from its inspiration. If anything, it leaves us disappointed the real Alex is not nearly as attractive as Lauren Prepon, the actress who portrays her in the series. That’s Hollywood for you. At least they got the glasses right.
That brings me back to my point. Piper’s story is nothing special. Remove Alex from the plot and the remainder is dull. Alex’s presence causes some serious tension between Piper and Larry, her fiance. That conflict rises steadily to boiling point by the final episode and leads to a terrific cliffhanger that has me so glad the wait for season two is almost over. Again, less Alex means less story. Alex wasn’t in the prison, so there was far less tension between Piper and Larry. In fact, Larry was surprisingly reasonable throughout the whole ordeal. Which means there were no melodramatic phone conversations in which they questioned the stability of their relationship. He’s a keeper, that one.
Without the series writers’ creativity, Piper’s story is unoriginal. Thousands of men and women go to prison every year, a disproportionate number of them being Black or Latino. Are their stories not as important? I doubt the series would be half as popular if Taystee or Daya, Black and Latina characters, respectively, were the protagonist. Seeing Blacks and Latinos in prison is nothing outstanding. There is a Black version of Orange is the New Black, though. It’s called Madea Goes To Jail.
One main draw of the Netflix series is the fact that Piper is a middle-class White woman. The kind who gets upset with you for not shopping at Whole Foods with reusable bags. Seeing her transform from an uppity lady to the thug life has a Godfather II appeal to it. But let’s be real; that didn’t actually happen. It just makes for great TV.
Also, many readers of the book complain that Piper makes prison look fun. In fact, she only has minor conflicts with prison mates throughout her time there. No one obsessed over her so much it made her feel uneasy. No one tried to starve her to death. And, certainly, no one tried to kill her with a sharpened cross during an Easter production. She got along fairly well with everyone. Without the drama the TV writers injected into the story, Orange Is The New Black would have been more fitting as a Lifetime special than a Netflix series.
In short, a delightful cast, witty writing, and soap-opera drama are what make Orange Is The New Black so enthralling. The real Piper story lacks all those elements. Still, I’m glad her book has garnered such attention. In a way, it serves as a commentary on the absurdly unjust justice system. But that’s a topic for another article.
I’ll be waiting along with thousands around the country for midnight so I can find out what happened to Piper after what she did last season. Actually, that’s a lie. I’ll be out with friends that night. That’s the beauty of Netflix. You’re not tied to your TV at a certain hour. Watch it when you want. That’s what lazy Sunday afternoons are for.
By the way, I still eagerly anticipate the day orange becomes the new black. I look good in that color.