Smart ladies love to ask, why aren’t there more Jenji Kohans?

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Not, like, literally. I don’t think there should be multiple Jenjis roaming the earth like Sarah/Beth/Cosima. I do wonder why there aren’t more daring, feminist female TV writer/producers that are interested in diversity and telling womens’ stories [I do know why–the patriarchy, duh–but last year was the year that politicians wanted agency over our vaginas so I figured there would be more pop culture responses to this by now].

Like many others, I have spent a few days marathoning and obsessing about Orange is the New Black, the new Netflix comedic drama from Weeds creator Jenji Kohan. Along with Shonda Rhimes and a few others (I will not mention anything having to do with Bunheads, for it will make me cry), Kohan is in a a very small, elite female group of show creators whose names carry the cache of say, Graham Yost or Mike Schur. This is great for TV and for women and I hope Kohan inspires a rash of intelligent female-centered shows. [Also, if you haven’t seen the show, there will be a few SPOILERS. You have been warned.]

OITNB rivals Rhimes’ shows for having the most multicultural, diverse cast. This not only promotes inclusion in the personal lives of the viewers, but also in casting TV and movies. Many of these talented women will now get jobs outside of OINTB. Everyone is so damn great that they could have shows built around them.

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Plus how can you not love a show that hires Kate Mulgrew as a foul mouthed Russian-mob-affiliated cook named Red?

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And Patty Mayonnaise as a yoga instructor? [Other surprising OITNB facts here.]

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I love that the transgendered character, Sophia, was given a backstory in the third episode that felt so real. The writers did a phenomenal job of exploring the concept of gender vs sexual preference. The actress who plays Sophia, Laverne Cox, is also trans and is incredibly well spoken about gender and sexuality, as read in this Gawker interview.

Promoting a feminist agenda is very important to me.  I love how women are treated by the show.  Orange explores all types of female relationships beautifully, from friends to lovers to rivals to protectors. Here are a few of my favorite relationships/interactions:

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These two! I definitely appreciate the little pop culture references.

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I’m president of the TV too, Taystee! Let’s see what “Pussy” has to say about it.

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BURRRRNNNNNNN! But anyway, the friendship of these two women is beautiful.

And let’s not forget Alex/Piper (they sure are popular on tumblr!),  Sophia/the nun (this is such a sweet friendship), Big Boo/Little Boo (are dogs REALLY allowed in prison?) and Nicky/everyone. Seriously, Natasha Lyonne is a fucking treasure. The relationships that these women form and the way they do it is so fascinating. For instance, Sophia originally befriended the nun because she wanted her hormone pills, but she ended up getting a powerful confidant instead.

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There are other lovely moments, like when Maria had her baby and she was wheeled back into prison, sans baby or everyone watching Janae from prison windows as she returns from SHU (solitary). While in solitary herself, Chapman tells Healey off so wonderfully, really getting at the issues of gender, sex and power, that I threw my hand up in an “amen” fashion when it ended. Those are scenes that I replay in my head over and over. Scenes I didn’t think I’d see on television.

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The show is not perfect, however. I read this article when I couldn’t sleep the other night and my mind swirled and I almost became angry at myself for enjoying such trash. But as I thought about it, I realized that even though the show has faults, there is nothing else like it on TV right now. That is incredibly sad, but I also want to do my best to support such a impressive show, even with the blemishes.

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Kohan and the ladies on set

But yes, there’s sometimes a lack of diversity within different ethnic groups: I think the writers will become more conscious of this and correct it in the second season. In the beginning of the season, the groups did not mingle, but by the “Fucksgiving” episode, you see the core group of actors eating with each other.

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The only lesbians are white or are Crazy Eyes/Suzanne, who isn’t getting any because she’s an insane stalker. Also, these are her (presumably adoptive) parents, which the writers never reference again beyond what feels like a sight gag. WTF? I want to know that story. She became more human as the show progressed so a trip to her past would humanize her even more.

I would also like to see racism and classism explored within the women at the prison. I just wish there was a little more satire there, particularly in Piper’s relationship with boring ass Larry (at least Jason Biggs got to masturbate on screen again! Oh!).

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More cuteness here. We love to see them all being BFFs and saying fuck you to female rivalries.

But really, those are quibbles when compared to the quality of OITNB overall. Did I mention it is funny? Not broad Weeds funny, but weird, Justified funny, where characters are allowed to be both dramatic and hilarious. I almost thought Ava was going to randomly show up.

Even though season one of Orange is the New Black is full of all the elements that make an amazing TV show (the pacing is yet another thing I love about it), I worry that Kohan is going to be Ryan Murphy II.  Weeds totally went off the rails when Nancy moved to Mexico. I hope Kohan has learned from that show how to steer plotlines and also how not to make a show turn into a steaming pile of crap.

Season 2 is already being filmed and I’m hoping Kohan eschews the Ryan Murphy route and continues to blaze her own feminist path while inspiring others to create equally smart and challenging shows.

[ETA: Amazing interview with Lea DeLaria (Boo) here. Working on OITNB sounds like so much fun!]

Gifs from Use the Knife, Travalicious, NBC TV shows, Vincent Bator, A Boy Named Hsu, Samira Wiley’s twitter.

4 Comments

  1. Puhleaze. Weeds is one of the most offensive shows ever. Under the guise of empowering a silly, narcissistic, talentless white woman who already is the most privileged person. Having no other talent than a smart mouth, a white, skinny, well to do suburban woman (oh how they are oppressed!) just bats her eyelashes and gets what she wants/turns every one else’s world to poo. Fight the good fight, yo!!
    And the show mocks all Mexicans, Arabs, Afghanis, Indians and all men except for a couple of PC approved magic blacks. Jenji is a privileged white Beverly Hills woman who was born to a tv millionaire family. This is your idea of progressive and empowered?

  2. I challenge you to approve a perfectly valid, thought out post. Or you can cling to your narcissistic ‘skinny, suburban white women are oppressed victims of the world’ trope.

    • I actually don’t think that (I am not skinny nor do I live in suburbia, but you don’t know that about me), and I am very conscious of trying not to sound like that kind of person. I am sorry because I am extremely sensitive to white privilege and notice it in writing all the time.
      Weeds is terrible. I liked when it was a satire of suburbia but then it went off the rails–I stopped watching it when she went to Mexico.
      This post was intended to be silly and fun. I do think there need to be more female showrunners and more POC on TV and I do think OITNB is a step in the right direction, but yes, it is flawed. A feminist pop culture writer I really like, Sady Doyle, participated in a round table with other great women where they discussed each episode of OITNB. It is interesting and insightful. Here is their take on the first six episodes. I am working towards more pointed feminist critiques in my writing but I work full time and go to grad school so those posts end up half-baked, sitting in the queue. A New Year’s resolution, perhaps?

      Thanks for reading.
      xoxoM

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