I have a confession to make. While I like Orange is the New Black, I often feel a little left behind because I honestly don’t like it as much as many people I know, do. I like it fine. I binge watch it when a new season comes out. It’s just that when it’s over, it’s over. I don’t miss it when it’s gone. I don’t look up OitNB news or seek out information. It’s there or it’s not and I’m truly fine either way. Of course, with the rabid excitement that people experience when watching this show, it makes me feel a little like I’m on the outside looking in.
I never really understood it, as Orange is the New Black should be something right up my alley. I loved Weeds, am obsessed with prison shows, and am a fan of lesbians. ☺ However, I just don’t feel invested like so many others. I couldn’t understand it until I found Wentworth. Wentworth not only gave me what I’ve been craving in a women’s prison show, it also showed me all of the things that I wanted from Orange is the New Black, but never received.
Wentworth Feels like a real Prison!
One of the main problems I have with OITNB is the fact that it’s not really reminiscent of a prison. Most times, it feels like a militant summer camp with a wire fence and some strict counselors. Wentworth feels like a prison from the moment you enter the prison with Bea (Danielle Cormack). It feels like a dangerous place and though you aren’t technically locked in your specific cell at night, it’s clear that the prison is a dangerous place. Liz (Celia Ireland) says it best when she’s pointing out the emergency button to Bea and she tells her never, under any circumstance, to push it. Going to the screws (the officers) just leads to more trouble than it’s worth.
There is no Crazy Eyes
One of my favorite characters on OITNB is Suzanne (Crazy Eyes – Uzo Aduba), but knowing what I do of the prison environment, I cannot help but feel that Crazy Eyes is nothing more than a caricature of a mentally ill patient in prison that is there for comic relief. We’re supposed to laugh at the messed up, crazy girl! While it could be argued that Wentworth has Boomer, it is clear that while she has some anger issues, she is not necessarily mentally ill. Suzanne, at the least, has Bi-Polar and should be on some form of medication.
What that means is that her odds of being in general population are slim. Instead, she would be housed with the prisoners that need mental health care. Unfortunately, in order to make OITNB a more diverse population, she is left out in the open and the plight of people like her are shown plainly in the season. She is ridiculed, abused, made fun of, and many times, she is unable to protect herself, but in order to move the show forward, we pretend like it is okay to use someone like Suzanne as a plot device, and for the occasional comic relief.
The Writing is more Realistic to the Environment
Wentworth allows you to know who and what you are dealing with. It feels like a prison. It feels dangerous. OITNB never really feels that way. Even with Vee (Lorraine Toussaint) and Red (Kate Mulgrew) at odds, Vee just felt like a Kindergarten bully with some of her thugs around to teach the pre-schoolers lessons. It never really succeeds to immerse you in the prison world, because I don’t think that any real attempt has been made to do so. I suppose if I had to go to prison I would rather end up in the prison with the girls from Orange, but that is merely because it isn’t reminiscent of a prison, at all.
The Guards are the Real Deal
Look, no one is ever going to take a bumbling buffoon like Pornstache (Pablo Schreiber) seriously. Everything about this guy is terrible. From his acting to his bad choice of facial hair, he never should have become a permanent fixture in a woman’s prison. He is ridiculous. Now, Wentworth is another story. All of the guards have some faults, but they are people you could imagine working in a prison. Their issues are on some hand, relatable, and at the very least are explained through their backstories. You know the guards as well as you know the female prisoners. Even in the worst of the guards, Fletcher, you learn why he has the issues that he does, and unlike with Pornstache, he’s incredibly well acted.
The Backstories are Handled Better
Served up frequently and interspersed throughout the episodes, we learn something about the regular characters all the time. We know that Franky (Nicole da Silva) was essentially an orphan and was on a cooking reality show, Doreen (Shareena Clanton) was a party girl and lost her baby because of it, and Bea was a mom in an abusive marriage doing her best to protect her daughter. We also learn about the guards when we see Vera’s (Kate Atkinson) mom degrading her and making her feel like she’s not good enough.
The flashbacks are not lengthy nor do they have to be. They are just little tidbits that add to the story and bring some more development to the character. In fairness, Orange offers flashbacks, too. However, they are a bit clunkier. At times they are too frequent, offering unnecessary exposition, and spaced too far because too many characters need flashbacks. I know things about the women in Litchfield Prison, I just know more about the women at Wentworth.
Less Characters Means more Intimate Understanding of the Characters
As with the complaint about how flashbacks are handled, there are less main characters in Wentworth which allows you to know each woman and understand who she is and what she is about. It serves the show better and allows the viewer to really understand the characters and come to care about them. With Orange there are so many characters that are given small amounts of time that you’re ending up without real knowledge of these people and (at least in my case) you can’t name half of them. The bigger problem is that a lot of those unnamable characters are in the minority groups, as opposed to the white girls. Of course, I suppose that’s for another article.
Wentworth Season 3 – coming in 2015 teaser trailer by wentworthtv
At the end of the day Wentworth is just a better show. You are free to disagree, and I am sure that if you’re more interested in comedy you might. However, making light of the prison situation in America doesn’t seem that funny. It’s not as bad when you ignore they are in prison, but then, that’s kind of the point of the show.