Orphans and Orange onscreen: Stories about women are the new black

I don’t usually watch a lot of TV, I prefer to read (as earlier posts will indicate) but last weekend I watched about nine hours of TV – to the point that I got a headache and realized I hadn’t been outside the apartment all day. What had me so engaged? Like half the rest of the world, it was season two of Orange is the New Black (Team Sophia!). I paused it only to watch the latest episode of Orphan Black (Team Cosima!).

It was watching one after the other that made me realize the similarities between the two shows. No, there are no clones in OITNB, and the felons in Orphan Black aren’t locked up, but the parallels of the shows are there.

All about the women
The most obvious similarity is that both centre on women. Complicated, engaging, infuriating women who make terrible decisions, enormous sacrifices and amazing connections to their audience. There are so many female characters that simply fit an old trope or stereotype – the nagging wife, the desperate singleton, the catty best friend. It is frustrating to never see yourself represented on screen in any complexity so the fact that the women in these shows are anything but simple is so rewarding to watch.

Some of the characters in both these shows make the dumbest decisions. Seriously. So. Dumb. But I always understand WHY they’re making that decision. There are no “villains” in the shows because we understand their motivation. We can hate a character one week, and the next week the writers will throw us head first down the rabbit hole of their backstory and suddenly we commiserate and sympathize with someone who seemed heartless. I’m still waiting for that to happen with Vee on OITNB. Oh she makes me so mad…

Both shows have impressive diversity represented on screen, especially considering Orphan Black essentially has the least diverse cast ever. Orphan Black’s ethnic diversity could certainly be better, but its representation of LGBT characters is fantastic to see. I love the inclusion of Tony, the transgender clone that threw Felix for a loop last episode and I hope we see a lot more of him in the future! OITNB is even more impressive. Its ensemble cast includes a range of ages, races, ethnicities and classes that is rarely represented on screen and it doesn’t shy away from telling complicated and challenging stories.

Science, politics, sociology and psychology – these shows delve into some of the biggest issues of our time and do it so flawlessly that you don’t even realize you’re learning. Debate around women owning their own bodies; the realities of the prison system; gender, sex and sexuality, there are few topics these shows won’t tackle. Considering how white bread and non-threatening most TV shows are it is refreshing to see complicated ideas explored through character experiences.

Moral of the story: If you’re not watching both these shows you are missing out! 



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