Some shows, such as Gossip Girl, Suits, Entourage, and Californication attract their audience because they feature young, rich and successful characters with luxurious and thrilling lifestyles. Essentially, we watch these shows because we want to experience this type of life for ourselves.
What I think is unique is about “Orange is the New Black” is that audience is given a look into a scenario we would never want experience. Piper Chapman, a public relations executive, is suddenly stripped of her life accomplishments and forced to trade her steady career for prolonged jail time. She is thrown into a new and scary situation that her finance background and safe middle-class life could have never prepared her for. Filled with crazy inmates, crowded living spaces, poor sanitation, gross living quarters and corrupt authority, the prison is anything but welcoming. I think this plotline is appealing to audiences because we relate to Piper as an individual and wonder what we would do in her unfortunate situation. Piper must overcome the many emotional and physical struggles of prison in hopes of returning to her old life. The audience takes on this journey of survival with Piper and gets an inside look at the not-so-glamourous life behind bars.
Although we empathize with Piper, as the show progresses, the focus shifts from her story to the stories of the other women in the prison. Everyone is quick to judge inmates in jail because they have obviously committed crimes, and this concept is uncomfortable for us. It is easy to label and identify these individuals as a bad people. As Piper is forced to reside (very close) with the other women in the prison, unexpected friendships between them begin to form. With each episode, we learn about the backgrounds of the other women and what they went through before prison. A very interesting and important aspect of this show is the usage of flashbacks of each woman to tell their unique story and reveal their truths to the public. These powerful flashbacks humanize these criminals and uncover their true identities beyond the orange jumpsuits.
This article gave background on some of the main characters and their flashbacks.
I appreciate this show because it inspired me to adjust the way I view individuals, such as criminals, who have hit rock bottom because of their past mistakes. I am not saying that all people are innocent and good because they are not, but there is more to a person than their past. The in-depth look into the strong, passionate and courageous personalities of these women shatter the perception we, as outsiders, see prisoners. Piper, a successful woman with a career and a fiancee, is on the exact same playing field as a woman who lives in poverty and has no family. Even coming from all different walks of life, these women are fighting through the same journey of survival and recovery, and there is something powerful about that.