There are few shows as distinctive or funny as Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, which has received heavy critical acclaim and is praised for its positive social impact. Based on Piper Kerman’s real-life memoirs, Jenji Kohan’s show follows a woman in her 30s who goes to prison for an offense that happened 10 years prior. A fish out of water, it sees her coming to terms with her situation and dealing with her fellow inmates. With an exceptional ensemble cast, unique setup, fantastic writingm and intriguing stories, OITNB has become one of Netflix’s most-watched original series and picked up dozens of awards.
10. Kohan saw Piper as a “Trojan Horse”
What is so fantastic about OITNB is the terrific ensemble cast, with each character being unique and having their own plotlines and very distinctive personalities. When creating the show, Kohan knew that she wanted to flesh out all of these characters and not solely focus on Piper. But when she was pitching to network execs, she saw Piper as a Trojan Horse, so to speak – “In a lot of ways, Piper was my Trojan Horse. You’re not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories.” While Piper is clearly the main character, it is often the others that provide plenty of the humor and heart.
9. American Pie is Linked to the Show
Jason Biggs will forever be Jim from American Pie and that’s because he so perfectly played the role of awkward teenager (with an extremely embarrassing father). This is something that the creators of OITNB have embraced, as there is a direct link made to the films in the very first episode when his character, Larry, is talking to Piper. He says to her that he tells her everything, including the webcam incident and the awkward shaving incident. Fans of the American Pie films will have picked up at that this refers to two of the most cringe worthy and famous moments in the film and it is clever use of intertextuality. Although clearly different characters, there are many similarities between Larry and Jim. He is not the only link either, as Natasha Lyonee (who plays Nicky) also appeared in the films.
8. Red and Piper Have Previously Appeared as Mother and Daughter
There is a terrific dynamic between neurotic Piper (Taylor Chilling) and the feared-yet-respected Russian matriarch Red (Kate Mulgrew), but it is not the first time that Chilling and Mulgrew have appeared on screen together. It even had a similar dynamic. Back in 2009, they played mother and daughter in the U.S. medical drama series Mercy. Mercy only aired for a single 22 episode season before being axed due to low ratings, but Schilling played one of three nurses that the show centered on. Her character, Veronica Agnes Flanagan Callahan, was a nurse that had just returned home from a tour of duty in Iraq, whilst Mulgrew played her mother – Jeannie Flanagan. For others who recognize Red, it is likely from Star Trek: Voyager in her role as Captain Kathryn Janeway.
7. Jodie Foster Directed Two Episodes
With a powerful female cast, it only seems fitting that somebody of Jodie Foster’s pedigree has contributed to the show. Not in front of the camera as you may expect, however, but behind it as director. The legendary actress, famed for her roles in Silence of the Lambs, Panic Room, and The Accused, has directed two episodes of OITNB – “Lesbian Request Denied” in 2013 and “Thirsty Bird” in 2014. She has also recently directed an episode of another Netflix original, House of Cards. Since 2010, Foster has turned her attention to directing but this had largely been for films, such as The Beaver (2011) and Money Monster (2016). The Oscar winning actress was the one who asked to direct OITNB as she was a huge fan of the book. For her direction of the show, she earned an Emmy nomination in 2014 for Outstanding Directing of a Comedy Series.
6. The Creator Wrote an Episode of The Fresh Prince and Gilmore Girls
It is not much of a secret that the creator of the show, Jenji Kohan, also created the hugely popular and successful comedy-drama series Weeds, which ran from 2005 to 2012. She famously sold this to Showtime with just five words – “Suburban. Widowed. Pot. Dealing. Mom.” Both Weeds and OITNB have a similar blend of black comedy to go along along with the drama, but Kohan has worked on several other excellent projects. Her very first job was writing an episode of 90s classic The Fresh Prince of Bel Air – “Stop Will! In the Name of Love,” something she claims was a “rough entrance.” She went on to write an episode of Mad About You, Sex and the City, Gilmore Girls (plus produced 12) and Will & Grace. Quite the impressive resume, her OITNB is now characterized as the most watched original series on Netflix.
5. The Opening Credits Feature The Real Piper Chapman
Interestingly, the opening credits of the show differ to most shows in that they use non-actresses. Kohan used formerly incarcerated women, including the real life Piper Chapman (whose name is actually Piper Kerman). To get the right expressions, Kohan instructed the women to think of a peaceful place, a person who makes them laugh, and something that they want to forget. Most people are aware that the opening music, “You’ve Got Time,” is written by Regina Spektor, but not too many are aware that is was written specifically for the show. Spektor and Kohan had previously collaborated for an episode of Weeds where Spektor performed a cover of “Little Boxes.” For the OITNB theme, Spektor was sent a few unfinished episodes which helped her to see the characters come to life. She was nominated for a Grammy for “You’ve Got Time” in 2014.
4. Pre-Transition Sophia is Played by the Actress’s Twin Brother
Sophia Burset (played by Laverne Cox) is a transgender female inmate who works as a hairdresser. Many fans of the show were amazed in her flashback sequence, where the male pre-transition character looked remarkably similar to Sophia. This was not Laverne Cox playing a male role, but rather her identical twin brother, musician M Lamar. She did not reveal that she had an identical twin brother during auditions, but after telling the casting director, Cox insisted that her brother audition for the role just like everybody else. He landed the role, and has appeared in two episodes – “Lesbian Request Denied” and “Mother’s Day.” Over the course of Laverne Cox’s career, she has established herself as a trailblazer for the transgender community. She is the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy in the acting category (for Orange) and the first to appear on the cover of Time.
3. Ironically, Taryn Manning Was Arrested Days Before Being Cast
Taryn Manning, who plays Christian former drug addict Pennsatucky, very ironically was arrested just days before she landed the role. It was revealed that this was for assaulting her personal assistant, seeing her take a plea bargain of one day of community service. Also, Uzo Aduba was offered the role on the day she decided to quit acting. Aduba plays the role of fan favorite “Crazy Eyes,” who is a standout character right from the beginning thanks to her childlike yet slightly scary energy (and crazy eyes, of course). Aduba originally auditioned for a different role, then came back and read for track star Janae Watson (Aduba is a former sprinter and marathoner). After not hearing back, Aduba decided to quite acting and attend law school. The very same day, she was offered the role of Crazy Eyes – something that Kohan (rightfully) thought she would be perfect for.
2. Piper Kerman Regrets Her Past, Despite the Success of the Show
OITNB has proved to be immensely successful show with high critical acclaim. It has also been praised for its depiction of race, sexuality, gender, and body types, as well as for humanizing prisoners. Despite all of this success and positive social impact, Piper Kerman (whose memoir Orange is the New Black: My Year in Women’s Prison inspired the show) still regrets her past. She states that being incarcerated is a deeply traumatic experience and that it put her family through hell. She explained that those who loved her suffered a great deal and that her choices furthered other people’s substance abuse and suffering. There was stiff competition for the rights to her memoirs, but creator Jenji Kohan won Kerman over by insisting she wanted to tell the story properly. Although the show’s writers have now deviated from her memoirs after four seasons, Kerman still visits the set and provides notes.
1. Laura Prepon Originally Auditioned for Piper
Taylor Schilling so brilliantly plays the role of Piper, and Laura Prepon excels as the much tougher Alex, that it is hard to see anyone else playing these roles. Interestingly, things were nearly very different as Laura Prepon originally auditioned to play the lead role of Piper. However, Kohan and casting director Jennifer Euston found that Prepon was too confident and composed to play Piper – who is less assured than Alex’s character. As a result, they felt that if Prepon played Piper then the audience would not worry for her in prison. After coming to this decision, they decided to shape the character of Alex around Prepon as they liked her style so much and wanted to incorporate her in the show. They soon found their Piper, as Schilling only had to audition once for the role after perfectly capturing her imperfections.