Orange is the New Black season 2: What diversity on TV should look like

 

Last month, the cover of the venerable American magazine TIME featured a first in its 91-year history; a transgendered cover star. Actress and activist Laverne Cox struck a graceful pose in a blue dress and black heels, while the cover line heralded ‘The Transgender Tipping Point’. How did Cox achieve such prominence? Her role in a little show called Orange is The New Black might have had something to do with it. 

Today the eagerly anticipated second series of this truly original Netflix Original will be made available to watch online. It became a sleeper hit when it launched last summer and now ranks alongside those other acknowledged greats of TV’s current ‘Golden Age’. Unlike House of Cards, Breaking Bad or True Detective, however, Orange is The New Black is not another story of a white, male anti-hero who steps outside the confines of social norms for the vicarious pleasure of a (presumed) white, male audience.

Orange is the New Black season 2 first look review

Show creator Jenji Kohan based her series on the memoir of real-life Piper Kerman (played in the show by Taylor Schilling), a white, middle-class, attractive and - initially, at least - heterosexual woman who ends up in prison because of a drugs offence she committed some years previous. It’s a fish-out-of-water device we’ve seen a thousand times before on TV, in shows where a Piper-like lead character is flanked by a few token minority actors, usually in comedic, or plot-furthering roles.

What OITNB does differently is simple; it bestows on all its characters the same depth, complexity and detailed back-story that is usually reserved for the lead. Thus, the show utilises a large, diverse cast to embrace issues of race, gender identity, sexism, income inequality, mental health and plenty else besides. Add to this the fact that it includes more interesting roles for women than all the other quality US TV dramas combined, and you have some television really worth getting excited about.

As Piper comes to realise she’s not in fact the only prisoner with an interior life and a complicated past, so does the viewer. Background characters who stepped into the limelight last season included illegal immigrant Miss Claudette (Michelle Hurst),  Russian mobster Red (Kate Mulgrew) and Cox’s character Sophia, a trans woman denied healthcare by the prison guards. This season promises to focus in on several more.

Orange is The New Black is great entertainment, but it’s also an elegant rebuke to those who grumbling resist on-screen diversity. They worry it will somehow stifle creativity, when in fact quite the opposite is true. As Cox told TIME: “There’s not just one trans story,” and the same is true of every other oft-stereotyped group on television. Here, then, is the stockpile of original, untold stories drama commissioners always claim they’re crying out for - and it was right underneath their noses all along.

War and romance with Raworth

In this year of the First World War centenary, there’s another important historical moment to mark - the 70th anniversary of D-Day. This year’s series of Great British Menu concludes this evening with a banquet for veterans and the history of the day is explored in more detail by Normandy ’44 on BBC Two at 9.30pm. More romantic souls should be sure to catch If I Don’t Come Home: Letters from D-Day on ITV Player, a look at letters written by four servicemen to their families back home.

It’s the first-hand accounts which are most to be treasured, however, and remarkably, seventy years on, there are still living participants with stories to share. For that see, The Heroes Remember on BBC iPlayer, Sophie Raworth’s stirring series of interviews with veterans of that day in in June, 1944.

CATCH UP

My Last Summer, 4oD

Considering death is a common experience to us all, it’s surprising how rarely the subject is tackled honestly on television. Or is it? People as brave and candid as the five terminally ill participants of this new documentary series can’t be common. My Last Summer brings them together for regular weekends in the Cotswolds and no topic is out of bounds. “It would make a better television programme if one of us died,” commented 57-year-old Ben.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/my-last-summer/videos/all/s1-ep1-the-last-summer

Dinner at 11, 4oD

Like Come Dine With Me crossed with 7 Up, Dinner at 11 filmed a group of strangers as they dined together and discussed the issues of the day. The twist? All participants were still at primary school. The surprising topics of conversation included Nelson Mandela, progressive taxation and online grooming - “You go there and there’s a 60-year-old man waiting with a tranquiliser dart”, summarised Peter, helpfully. Can they really be just 11?

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dinner-at-11/4od

Happy Valley, BBC iPlayer

Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley has been one of the best-written but most emotionally draining drama series in recent years, so its Tuesday night conclusion came as something of a relief. In Sergeant Catherine Cawood, Sarah Lancashire has given us a character to root for through all manner of misery. Would it be too masochistic to hope for a second series?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b042r1k2/happy-valley-episode-1

Big Brother: Power Trip Live Launch, Demand 5

Does anyone still watch Big Brother? Yep, plenty of people, in fact, according to Channel 5’s ratings for the last series of CBB. The non-celeb version which started this week will have to work harder to keep our attention, but the early signs suggest Emma Willis et al are up to the challenge.

http://www.channel5.com/shows/big-brother

Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
exhibition Gillian Orr traces the movement from Bram Stoker to Kate Bush
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone