Pat Clark: ‘Orange’ is the new binge

07/24/2014 12:00 AM

07/23/2014 4:34 PM

If “Orange Is the New Black,” why do they wear beige?

That’s the obsessive question that dogged me while I devoured two seasons of the Netflix hit.

My household finally resubscribed to Netflix recently, allowing me to jump on the bandwagon that has carried this digital-service series to a handful of Emmy nominations this year.

I binge-watched in batches, staying up (again) until 2 or 3 a.m. on school nights because I couldn’t stop from hitting the button to watch “just one more” episode. Finally, I finished last weekend.

It’s a sickness, one that easily could enter pandemic mode, given how prevalent binge watching has become among the masses, thanks to digital access to so many TV series. I first became infected by “The Americans,” trying to catch up on Season 1 before watching Season 2. I’ve had sporadic symptoms ever since. Even before I gave into the “Orange” bandwagon, I binged on another TV show on Netflix that I’d stopped watching years ago. But more on that, along with the pain that is “buffering,” another day.

My original plan was to watch “House of Cards” rather than “Orange Is the New Black” because, frankly, a women-in-prison concept just didn’t sound particularly entertaining. But when it came down to it, I knew more people watching “Orange” who completely gushed about the show, so I went there.

And it’s as good as people – and all those Emmy nominations – suggest. Funny, dramatic, addictive. The saga of a well-bred Connecticut woman whose one-time-only, long-past, drug-related indiscretion finally comes back to bite her and sends her off to a 15-month prison sentence is filled with fascinating characters and seriously good acting.

I can’t take my eyes off some of them, particularly Emmy-nominated Uzo Aduba, who plays the equal parts tragic and hysterical inmate dubbed “Crazy Eyes” to the point of being almost mesmerizing.

Each episode has its own story line but also gives a back story to an inmate, an insight into why and how each ended up in prison. Yes, some are just bad people; others the victims of their own individual circumstances. But it does paint a humanity on each one.

You find yourself rooting for many of these prisoners, which seems bizarre, but the writers do a terrific job of making almost all of them sympathetic. It’s an entire slate of antiheroes. And the one you should sympathize most with, lead character Piper Chapman, you sometimes want to scream at for being so self-involved.

My gripe with the show – aside from that confounding name thing – is the amount of graphic sex depicted. Look, I get that this is subscription stuff and that they’re going for a reality-check thing. But most of the nudity and sex scenes are completely gratuitous, both those heterosexual and same-sex – which at least makes me an equal-opportunity prude.

You can talk boundary-pushing all you want, but in the end, gratuitous is gratuitous; unnecessary. It’s distracting and, frankly, uncomfortable. Yes, the artist would say it’s supposed to be uncomfortable. And, yes, this is set in a prison and graphic things undoubtedly go on in such. But there’s something far more talented and impressive in being able to tap restraint and to depict reality as fiction without being so obviously in the viewers’ faces.

Graphic nudity and sex just seems like a lazy way to go.

But enough about all that, because we need to get back to that obsessive original question about orange, beige and what-the-heck!?

It really bugs me. I asked a co-worker (who, by the way, took a day off just to binge watch the entire second season of “Orange Is the New Black” in one sitting, so I knew I was going to an authoritative source) about this whole orange vs. beige misnomer. She suggested that “Beige Is the New Black” doesn’t have the same ring to it. Right that.

The inmates do arrive at their new prison digs wearing orange, but then are given the permanent beige uniforms once they’re through the orientation process. So there’s orange there. Also, the series is based on a memoir by Piper Kerman and the book’s cover image is a close-up of orange slip-on sneakers. So maybe that’s where the real-life Piper was going when she titled her book.

But the show’s costume department easily could have had the inmates regularly wearing orange to match the clever name of the show. Clever goes out the window when it doesn’t make sense. But maybe that’s just me.

Nevertheless, I’m hooked, along with a lot of other viewers and critics. The show clearly is not for everyone, but its story line and acting easily rate the Emmy nominations garnered.

I’m going to need to get some solid sleep before Season 3 is released next year.

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