Dear Netflix: Prison made pretty in ‘OITNB’

Columnist Elana Williams wonders, “Dear high school me, how did you ever give up on a show with a title sequence sung by Regina Spektor?”

Dear Netflix,

Call me a snob. Call me old-fashioned. Call me hypocritical and unworthy of this lovely column, but …

I started watching “House of Cards” because I thought it was one of those “Arrested Development”-y shows that Netflix picked up after cancellation.

It was only later on that I realized it had been a Netflix Original from the start. If I’d known, I probably wouldn’t have watched it.

That was me admitting a bias, guys. Promise you still love me? I was biased, I still am biased to a small extent and I struggle every day to stop being biased against TV of Netflix origin.

“But this entire column professes your undying love to Netflix …” crickets chirping

Yeah, I know. And “House of Cards” embodies everything brilliant in television.

Here’s the thing, though. Remember middle school and those friends you had who made YouTube videos that were inexplicably popular? You knew they were terrible; you struggled not to cringe when they forced you to watch them.

I was the friend that was really, really embarrassed by those other friends. Looking back, I shouldn’t have been so quick to try and shut down creative outlets, but boy, did I turn red when they showed me the quality of the things they posted online.

Netflix is the YouTube video friend. The one really into film and entertainment but who shouldn’t be producing it himself.

Or at least, that’s what I always thought. Enter “House of Cards” a few weeks ago, and this week, “Orange is the New Black.”

I’d tried out “OITNB” when it first started up, but again, I gave it about half an episode’s worth of a shot before deeming it unworthy for some reason or another.

Dear high school me, how did you ever give up on a show with a title sequence sung by Regina Spektor?

How about because the lead is two-dimensional and the plot is sensationalized?

“Elana, it’s based on a true story!” steps back to observe

Piper Kerman dated an international drug smuggler ten years before her arrest. She helped smuggle some money (read: 50 grand) across the ocean once and got arrested for it 10 years later. Now she’s in prison for it.

The pilot opens with your standard “I’m a real woman” scenes, and we see Piper freaking out about being fat after stress-eating and about growing a unibrow in prison.

People like this? Piper weighs a whopping 115 lbs. on a good day, I’d wager. She seems to be trivializing this way too much.

Later in the night, she cries in the bathroom and we finally see some form of real emotion come out of her. She’s hiding from her fiancé, for whom she’s put on a brave face. I’ve been there before. This, I understand.

And then the moment’s ruined. Why? Because this is a flashback. Because 75 percent of the scenes in this show are flashbacks and when they’re over, we have to sweep back to present day to make up for lost time.

Not only are the flashbacks overwhelming in their presence, but they’re from different time periods and about different characters as well.

And prison life itself? I have some resident experts on speed dial and well, it’s not too far off. The portrayal of the guards in particular seems to be pretty accurate, with some being terribly volatile and others being overwhelmingly nice.

And there’s lots of bribery for info exchange, just like Healy does, as he sneaks candy to an inmate.

Honestly, given the circumstances I’d probably turn into a pretty two-dimensional “I’m a little girl in crisis mode” character, as well. Piper has lots of crying fits, gets made fun of a lot and has had a generally crappy time in prison so far.

I think my biggest problem is that her circumstances are so unusually privileged. She’s a rich white girl who self-surrendered after getting away with her crime for 10 years.

There’s so much wrong with the system, and I don’t think this is the way to show that. It’s so far from the norm, that it presents a skewed view of what’s really happening.

That’s an article for a different section and a different day though.

I do like “OITNB.” As a Netflix Original, it’s below “House of Cards” but definitely still pretty great.

Love, Elana

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