Why You Should Watch Orange Is the New Black

Did Netflix just create the greatest lesbian TV series ever?



At left: Laverne Cox

“Working with Jodie was the highlight of my career so far,” says Cox. “I grew up watching her work and studying her performances. She was a dream director, so generous and smart and passionate about the work. There was one night we were shooting and between takes she comes out to give adjustments and her eyes were filled with tears. Tanya Wright, who plays my wife, and I had both been crying in the scene. My work brought Jodie Foster to tears. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

In fact, it was the women — the crew, the cast, the environment — that drew all these amazing women together.

“If you are asking what drew me to this particular project, that's simple,” says DeLaria. “One, it takes place in a women's prison which, let's face it, is just plain hot. Two, Jenji Kohan. I would've given my left nut to work with the creator of Weeds. Jenji is a comedic genius."

Prepon, who tends to hang out with mostly guys, says she was “nervous about being around so many women. I've never worked with this many women before. It was an awesome experience! I learned so much working with these great actresses. There was not one diva. Everybody was there to do great work, and play these awesome/different/kooky characters.”

“I was truly blown away by every actor I got to work with on this show,” Cox adds. “I learned so much. In episode three I had this scene with Kate Mulgrew and after we rehearsed it, I freaked out because she was so good. I knew she was going to blow me out of the water in the scene. Jodi totally picked up on it and gave me a pep talk. The work she did in just that one scene was a master class in everything we strive to do as actors. Incredible!”

In a town where, according to Hit The Floor’s gay creator and executive producer James LaRosa, women comprise 11% of directors in primetime TV and 90% of shows employ no women directors, the Orange is the New Black set was nothing but grrl power (er, woman power). (It’s interesting to note that LaRosa’s show has only employed women directors, which might explain why it’s ranked #1 among women 18-49 in its Monday night cable slot.)

Lyonne, who has spoken a great deal about the industry sexism she and director Tamara Jenkins faced while making Slums of Beverly Hills, says working with Netflix on Orange was nothing but blessed.

“The biggest difference working on a show run by a woman, starring women, and especially one set in women's prison, is the way vanity goes out the window,” says Lyonne. “Maybe it's the uniforms or just our dedication to the project, but it seems that there is no one very invested in being the pretty one. We were far more interested in staying as grounded as possible in the reality that these were women in prison, not actresses on a TV show.”

She says that a great debt is owed to Netflix for “never shying away from ‘gross female stuff.’ I'm particularly reminded of Tamara Jenkins' absurd and frustrating struggles on Slums of Beverly Hills, when the studio asked her if it was necessary to hold on the shot of blood on the dining room chair when my character, Vivian, got her period. We never came up against this sort of thing on Jenji’s show. They wanted our show to be as honest to the female experience as possible.”

Netflix, which surprised appointment TV-watchers with House of Cards and fanboys with Hemlock Grove, seems to be making all the right moves. Will Orange Is the New Black will have the same reaction?

“One can only hope,” says Cox. “It’s a very exciting time we are in, with Netflix leading the way with such quality programming online. I know I am blown away by the writing, the actors, and our amazing crew. I hope the public responds the way I have.”

And indeed, though the show is honest and raw, exploring the real lives of what feel like real women, it’s still a damn funny show. This is not the sexploitation women’s prison of flicks like Caged Heat or even Prisoner: Cell Block H, the scary Aussie women-in-prison series that offered many a ’70s child their first glimpse of lesbians.

“Without comedy, it’s just drama and then it becomes Cell Block H or Oz,” DeLaria says before offering a chuckle. “Although I can remember being 16, smoking pot, and screaming with laughter at Cell Block H.”

DeLaria says that for her, working on a TV series with so many women was “stimulating, and not just in an artistic way. It wasn’t just women either. I think it was my second or third day of filming when I looked around me and said, “This set is like a dyke bar; all we need is a pool table and a DJ spinning ‘We Are Family.’”