An hourlong comedy about women in prison. Released in summer. Without the requisite big-name lead. On Netflix. Television just does not get any more experimental than that.
And, as Mary McNamara and Yvonne Villarreal discuss in this week's Talking TV video, "Orange Is the New Black" proves precisely why experiments are so important.
Lacking the A-list hype (Kevin Spacey! Robin Wright!) surrounding "House of Cards" and the anticipatory lovefest that led up to the resurrection of "Arrested Development," Jenji Kohan's adaptation of Piper Kerman's memoir, also called "Orange Is the New Black," not only seems buzzier than both those shows combined, it's way more important.
Not only is there a female lead, still a rarity on shows with "prestige" ambitions, but it also has an all-woman cast of breathtaking diversity and dimension. Characters of every shape, race and background offer endless narrative possibility, and what starts off in familiar territory quickly takes viewers into a whole other kind of television, says McNamara.
Kohan, who made her name on "Weeds," is not just a maestro of counterintuitive female characters, she also knows how to construct and market a show, Villarreal points out, by using flashbacks to overcome the story's intrinsic claustrophobia and Twitter to create a conversation without the traditional broadcast time line.
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