TV Viewpoint: OITNB and Sens8

Netflix Original Series

Video may have killed the radio star, but terrestrial TV is being slowly murdered by online subscription services. It has become ubiquitous to the Twitter generation to go on a Netflix Binge on a rainy weekend; Portlandia, the satirical sketch show starring Fred Armison and Carrie Brownstein (which itself has a syndicated Netflix spot) has a brilliant bit in which a couple are sucked into watching hundreds of episodes of a programme from Friday night all the way through until work on Monday. When the third Series of Orange is the New Black dropped on last Friday I’m sure the sketch wasn’t too far away from many people’s realities. Good job it only has 13 episodes. I reached number 11, saving the final two for a mid-week mini-binge, so if you haven’t got even that far I’d stop reading now if I was you. Spoilers ahoy. oitnb-season-3-key-art

On this latest insight into the women’s minimum security prison, Litchfield Penitentiary we find that business has returned to normal, or as normal as possible, after the havoc Viv caused last season. Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren has still got the deluded notion that Viv will return, but after escaping through a tunnel and subsequently getting mowed down by Rosa, armed-robber and terminal-cancer patient on the run, the rest of the former crew are relieved by the knowledge that that chapter of their time in Litchfield is over. I was too – season two had a darker, more violent streak to it in which it became clear that the funnier moments and characters are what makes the show so successful, so season three almost consistently focuses on the more comical aspects of incarceration.

Alex has also returned, after being ratted out by a vengeful Piper for parole violation. Gone is the confident, self-serving drug runner, in her place a defeated and paranoid shadow if her former self. She and Piper resume their relationship quickly, but Piper has learned the selfish, self-preserving ways of prison life and largely ignores Alex’s moaning, turning her attentions instead to attractive Antipodean Stella. Her enterprising spirit reignites when a visit from her parents on her birthday turns sour and the spark of an idea that she may not have followed through on before takes off even further than she thought. While in season one Piper was in no doubt the main character, fan reactions have called for more ensemble attention, so while she is still involved in the more major storylines and given top billing in the credits, this season sees a lot more flashbacks to characters that before had been in the background. And this series is all the better for it.

Silent Norma has slowly and weirdly been amassing a cult following from the other prisoners – they begin to believe that she has certain powers that make them feel calmer and kinder. That they probably do, not by magic but by being more considerate and introspective is no real matter; the collective brings groups together that have been suspicious and untrusting of each other before. We learn that Norma is silent because of a severe stammer – she hasn’t spoken since the 60s (apart from a memorable moment in season one), when she joined a cult and became one of the many lives of the leader, eventually being the only remaining follower up until the incident that leads to her incarceration. Her biggest champion is meth addict Leanne, who wants to lay down rules and create a manifesto. In one of the biggest, and in hindsight most revealing surprises of the season it’s revealed that Leanne is a former member of the Amish community, who fell down the rabbit hole during rumspringa.

Other flashbacks focus on Chang, an oddball middle-aged Chinese inmate and Joe Caputo, the assistant to the warden, and altogether make for a more rounded show. Where before the supporting characters were caricature like for the most part, now we’ve been shown that what lies beneath the surface of anyone’s life is far deeper than anyone may know. Season 3 has been fun. The only question is, what will we waste next weekend on?

netflix-sense8Turns out, I may have the answer. Another Netflix original series has been gaining a lot of traction, coming from the creators of The Matrix, The Wachowskis. I watched the first episode of Sense8 (needed an OITNB break) and it has piqued my interest – eight seemingly unrelated people scattered across the world have begun to be able to see things through each others’ eyes. As an introduction it was slow, and could have been longer so as to cover a few more of the eight, which include a business woman in Seoul., cop in Chicago, bus driver in Nairobi and a trans woman in San Francisco. It promises to be an interesting way in gaining insight into the lives of others. All the episodes are there for your viewing pleasure – just don’t forget to get some sun on Saturday.

Aoife B. Burke

First published in The Tuam Herald on 17th June 2015

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