A second chance is one of the most coveted opportunities, especially considering that the next opportunity—if there is a next–could be the third and final strike.
Hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black (OITNB) delivered in its first season and over delivered when given a second chance with Season 2. The third season of OITNB was yet another success, raking in accolades, sexy headlines and reviews that dubbed the show as “must see TV,” “captivating,” and “some of the finest television to date.” The show has been heralded as one of the most, if not the most diverse television cast. No squandered second chance, no third strike.
Since its inception, OITNB has been some of the best binge-worthy television shows since The Wire (I double-dare anyone to argue that fact–“Omar comin’!“). Viewers have laughed, cried, laughed some more and maybe, just maybe, have been reminded that the show is a loosely based narrative from the brilliant mind of creator Jenji Kohan and the misadventures of Piper Kerman. That reminder serves as a “pinch-me-is-this-real” moment to nudge viewers into the real world where the growing rate of imprisoned women isn’t at all funny or sexy.
So while OITNB doesn’t need a second chance to improve its ratings, as the excellent writing, magnificent acting and throes of loyal fans have pretty much ensured that the show doesn’t need a boost over the proverbial fence, Season 4 will hopefully serve as a second chance for the show to delve deeper in exposing some of the growing challenges women face in America’s broken prison system.
Okay, so OITNB is just a dramedy whose goal is to entertain, not necessary enlighten, though I think it does a pretty decent job at doing both. And it’s not lost on me that Season 3 highlighted the prison-industrial complex and some of the consequences of privatization, like the hiring of correctional officers whose only “professional” experience is that of slanging donuts, or the Litchfield prisoners competing for the lucrative opportunity to earn $1 per day to stitch the crotch of lace-trimmed underwear.
These fictional scenes didn’t just manifest from Kohan’s mind to the screen; these scenarios mirror real life events. Many companies and consumers benefit from the sweatshop-esque work of prisoners who likely will not receive a job offer from the very companies they slave for while incarcerated, rehabilitation and second chance be damned. Just ask the 4,000 male inmates who fight California wildfires for $2 a day, their compensation for saving lives and California dollars. The chances of them being hired as a firefighter once they’ve “paid their debt to society” is about as good as my voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election—hell nah, neva, nope, c’mon now…in case you were wondering where I or the state of California stands on the matter.
Difficult issues of race, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status and even age are addressed in OITNB. Many viewers were introduced to the concept of compassionate release when one of the members of Litchfield’s “Golden Girls” began showing signs of advanced dementia and was released from prison and taken to the bus station. That particular episode had viewers Googling the validity of compassionate release and questioning the legality of the concept. Now that, my friends, is some good TV! It entertains, it educates, it advocates and it inspires its viewers to educate themselves.
Departing from the Season 1 theme of Piper’s white privilege and moving on to highlighting the struggles, however vague and in some cases grossly embellished (it’s TV, what are you gonna do?), that women prisoners face has seemingly been a growing theme for writers of OITNB. In order to maintain its popularity, modest credibility and relevance, OITNB needs to continue to mirror the problems emblematic of a truly effed up American prison system. Art imitates life. That said, in the much anticipated 2016 premiere of Season 4, I look forward to OITNB highlighting some of the cruelties female prisoners have and continue to face. Here’s a start (you’re welcome):
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