How Orange is the New Black Continues to Revolutionize TV (Spoiler Alert)
Every season of Netflix’s most popular original series starts a buzz across the internet. This season is no different. Orange is the New Black pushes the limit like never before in Season 4, which went live on Netflix on June 17.
OITNB premiered on Netflix in summer 2013, and off the bat, began to address topics that weren’t typically portrayed in popular media, including race relations for women of color, humanizing prison culture, and developing LGBTQ relationships. The show first focuses on new inmate Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) and her experiences entering Litchfield Penitentiary in upstate New York. The audience sees Schilling’s character develop (perhaps for the worst) and the show also begins to delve into the lives of the other inmates at Litchfield (who are by far more interesting than Piper). OTINB is based on a memoir called “Orange is the New Black: My Year In A Women’s Prison” written by Piper Kerman, but the show is insanely more popular than the book.
But why does a show about prisoners continue to receive stellar ratings and an immense following on social media? Like with any TV show, audience members are emotionally invested in these characters. Creator Jenji Kohan and show writers love pushing the bar and writing up ridiculous situations to enhance the shock value of the plot. Addressing social issues also spurs conversation topics on social media after everyone has finished binging each 13-episode season in one day. The rate of prison violence and alienation against transgender women of color is addressed through the storyline of Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox). The Black Lives Matter movement also makes an appearance in season 4, in addition to a white supremacist group of prisoners who combat the BLM supporters. Finally, the unnecessary death of the beloved inmate Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) caused a ruckus from fans.
Besides the emotional attachment viewers have, Netflix does an excellent job of marketing OITNB. Months before each season premieres, Netflix plasters Schilling’s face in a banner on their home page. It’s impossible to avoid Piper Chapman and the other inmates when you’re just trying to binge The Office for the seventh time. Netflix includes videos and previews of the show before it premieres, and then features a countdown on its home page until the new season begins to stream. And since Netflix is practically a household appliance at this point, it’s impossible to avoid the on-site advertising. Netflix plants the OITNB trailers in other areas of the web too, and fans are eager to share the advertisements on their social media platforms with an excited message to accompany it. Even people who don’t watch the show seem to have some knowledge of it, considering the vast amount of fans who take to social media to discuss it (similar to Game of Thrones).
The bewildering success of OITNB also makes way for streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu to become successful in actually producing media content, rather than just streaming it. These competitors are giving cable networks a run for their money, especially since Netflix doesn’t have the FCC guidelines that cable networks like FX or TNT do. They can produce more “risqué” content and have no consequences, except maybe from the fans of these shows or movies. More and more, Netflix and Hulu are releasing original entertainment and audiences are eating them up, just like OITNB, House of Cards, and Daredevil. Even comedians like Aziz Ansari and John Mulaney are collaborating with streaming services like Netflix to release their own comedy specials via that platform. What does this mean for cable television, or even premium networks like HBO and SHOWTIME? They better step their game up, because OITNB is living proof that streaming services are beginning to take over.