“Orange is the New Black” and the Bad Teeth Rule

Photo courtesy of Netflix and Slate.

Orange is the New Black is a terrific new Netflix original series set in a women’s prison. It’s funny, at times painful, and whip-smart. The acting is all top-notch, and the writing is intelligent (the show’s creator, Jenji Kohan, also created the Showtime series Weeds).

And the cast is truly diverse in their races, body types, and gender expression (Buzzfeed has a great guide here). (Asians are underrepresented, but that may be an accurate depiction of prison demographics.)

Of course, this being America, everyone’s just a little prettier than they need to be.

The show makes attempts at uglifying its characters: a junkie’s skin tone gets green and corpse-like as she’s detoxing, and people sweat convincingly. A few even have bad teeth–though, in fine Deadwood tradition, only the least sympathetic characters are allowed to.

Don’t get me wrong. I love looking at these women. I love that they aren’t all skinny. More than that, I love that they’re individuals. And even the most gorgeous among them never look plastic or styled.

They all look like real people. It’s pathetic how grateful that makes me.

But there are certain lines that are not crossed. We glimpse no armpit hair or leg hair, for example. No one has acne. But then again, why would they? We’re paying to watch this, so there has to be a layer of illusion in place…right?

The opening credits highlight how far the show’s creators are willing to push the envelope on female appearances. They show a montage of women’s faces, containing flaws that are mostly lacking on the show: moles, upper-lip hair, dark spots on cheeks.

Successful film actresses don’t have these distinctive markings. They couldn’t work in Hollywood if they did. You couldn’t cast a show that REALLY looks like the people I see walking around Boston.

The women of “Orange is the New Black” are a remarkable group. And the show’s creators deserve full credit for that. I just wonder when we’ll be ready to let all those other, wonderfully flawed faces speak.

Maybe that’s what documentaries are for?

2 thoughts on ““Orange is the New Black” and the Bad Teeth Rule

  1. Netflix is changing how people watch TV. There is this whole concept of “binge-watching” now, where you watch an entire season in a weekend. You could do that with DVDs too, but Netflix is the first entity to build shows with an eye to being watched all in a row. So interesting! (I can’t do the 13 episodes in two days things myself, though. More like over two weeks.)

  2. Terrific post. I’m thinking I may want to get Netflix, in order to see this show – and I’ve really not been a Netflix person. NPR had a report on innovative new drama being done by Netflix and other groups, not TV networks. Thanks!

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