Officially four episodes into Orange Is the New Black. I’m going to refrain from writing anything until I finish the season, because sometimes shows take a while to marinate.
I mean, I have opinions, and I COULD start talking about how that weak white lady protagonist gums up the works of a perfectly great ensemble of fucking fabulous and ethnically/sexually diverse women, but I won’t. I won’t start talking about that. Because I believe in benefits of the doubt. Perhaps OITNB will surprise us all and move towards a more democratic plot structure. No one, including white ladies like me, are ever going to start hearing marginalized voices if they continue to get drowned out by the trilling sopranos of so many paleface weaklings.
At least it’s good to know that Jenji Kohan knows exactly what she brings to the table. Perhaps she’ll take a hint and start phasing out her milquetoast heroine. In Kohanworld, WHITE PEOPLE DON’T WORK UNLESS THEY’RE SURROUNDED BY OTHER WHITE PEOPLE. It’s a rule of thumb. And now I’m tearfully remembering the late, great seasons 1-3 of Weeds.
Now, Weeds was a really good show. It was good in the sense that it skewered the white suburban housewife sexpot in a very conscious way. Heroine Nancy Botwin was a sexpot, a thrill addict, a terrible mother, a resourceful little rat with good hair. She’s basically Walter White with a great ass (no offense, Bryan Cranston, I’d still hit it). Our main white squeeze is charming and sympathetic, but also kind of evil. We don’t mind hating her.
Kohan would posit the gorgeous/rotten Nancy against white-people scenery so consistently that privilege and suburbia started to seem unreal. Like a gross fantasy that tries too hard. When characters of color came along, they seemed out of place because Weeds is about the self-obsessed, neurotic, guilt-ridden, oblivious practices of the privileged few, and the bubble around themselves which they feverishly maintain. I mean, eventually Nancy would marry a Mexican drug kingpin and escape with his baby, but before Weeds got ahead of itself and forgot all logic, it was fucking smart.
And also hilarious. White ladies have mastered the art of the frienemy. BE MY GODDAMN MOTHERFUCKING FRIEND!!!
The difference (so far) between the two shows, is that we’re supposed to identify with, and pity, the white female protagonist despite her selfishness and dumbassery. I mean, yeah, the other characters call her out for her foolishness, but in the end, the viewer is supposed to pity her “innocence,” and kinda root for her. That is such bullshit. Especially when she is not a QUARTER as clever or ruthless as Nancy.
But again, I’ll give it time. There is indeed a lot to like, and I want to see where OITNB concludes the season. But Kohan should return to the early days of Weeds, and remember that we can’t suspend disbelief and LOVE our white heroines, no matter how cute they are. If they suck, they suck. Cultivate those heroines with shitty personalities. Let the other characters pelt her with poop and insults. Schadenfreude’s not just a German dessert.