DONALD: I knew that Beehiver Traci Arbios had fallen head over heels for the new Netflix original prison comedy-drama series “Orange is the New Black” the morning she walked into the newsroom wearing a jumpsuit the color of a traffic cone. OK, maybe she didn’t go THAT far. But Traci did admit to binge watching all 13 episodes of the series in something like three days, which is roughly equivalent in junk-food terms to inhaling two packages of Oreos plus a Costco bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos in one sitting. That piqued my interest in this series’ storyline about a hapless woman named Piper (played by Taylor Schilling) who finds herself serving 15 months in a woman’s prison for running drug money. Before I knew it, I’d inhaled four episodes myself. Now I’m addicted, and I find myself in the peculiar position of actually enjoying a pop-culture phenomenon – which “Orange” seems to have become — while it’s still hot. (Let’s put it this way: I didn’t get around to the new “Battlestar Galactica” until “Portlandia” made fun of it.)
Because Traci led me to the Orange, you could say, I consider her on this subject to be my guru and me the disciple. And, in the tradition of a devoted follower sitting at the feet of the enlightened master, I decided to interview her. My first question: Have you ever mistakenly stuck a screwdriver in your sweatshirt pocket and forgotten about it, thus making it quite possible for your sentence to be extended five years for carrying a deadly weapon?
TRACI: OK, first, your junk-food analogy is dead on — because like Doritos, after the first nibble of this show, one finds oneself in that odd, zen-like state of simultaneous satisfaction and voracious desire. From the first episode, “Orange” became my crack; I’d finish one episode, and crave just one more hit… and just one more… until, after inhaling all 13 episodes in one giant, three-day binge, I was left muttering to myself in a strung out, desirous stupor. HOW COULD IT JUST END LIKE THAT?
I’d invested my time and my attention until, really, the characters were no longer just characters but my TV friends. And I came to feel as though I could talk with some authority about life in a women’s prison because my TV friends actually live there. You know. In TV land. To answer your question with a question: Am I the only person — THROUGHOUT EVERY EPISODE — that pondered how Martha Stewart existed and survived under these same circumstances? Like, was she a wife? And if she had mistakenly stolen the screwdriver, would she have made similar use of it?
DONALD: I admit that until this moment I had never before pondered the nitty-gritty of Martha Stewart’s sleeping arrangements while bunking in the Big House, but now, yes, the mind reels. Not at the actual physical machinations if Martha played wife but at the etiquette of it all: Was she able to formalize the relationship with engraved invitations and tasteful appetizers? Or did she have to live in sin? (As for the screwdriver, I’d like to think she incorporated it somehow into a planter, but I can be a bit of a prude.) So, Traci, tell us more about your “Orange” fixation. Have you ever gone gaga over a Netflix series before? What is it about this show that grabbed you?
TRACI: “Hi. My name is Traci, and I am a TV series marathon addict.” (“Hi, Traci.”) The sad, sorry fact (or perhaps the amazing, awesome truth?) is that I love watching an entire TV series in one gigantic lump. There’s nothing quite as exciting — NOTHING, not even sky diving — as being engulfed in a series and being able to watch episode after episode without enduring commercials or the interminable week-long wait between shows. My first Netflix series experience was “House of Cards,” which I similarly devoured in one long rainy weekend. (In my defense, marathon watching is a joint activity with my husband, which makes it only slightly less pathetic [as it can then be defined as "couple" or "date time"].) If, after you devour “Orange” and need another fix to get you through the lonely times until your TV friends return, I highly recommend “House of Cards.” It’s flat-out brilliant and 9 Emmy nods can’t be wrong. THEY SIMPLY CAN’T.
To answer your second question, what grabbed me about “Orange” (and similarly, “House of Cards”) can be boiled down to 2 things: well-developed, likable (or extremely hate-able) characters, and setting. I love a show that takes me somewhere I would never, ever willingly go, submerges me completely, allowing me — nay, EXPECTING me — to become a total rubber necker soaking in the prurient details. Honestly, Donald, having just devoured 4 episodes like snack crackers, don’t you see where I’m coming from?
DONALD: I do, indeed, Traci. In fact, I devoured another episode in between the time I wrote my last installment on this post and this one. (I’m not sure I’ll ever look at a lone chicken the same way again.) What I like about the show is the way it dives into the back stories of the various inmates. I think the flashback sequences are ingenious. My favorite so far has been the story of Miss Claudette (played by the wonderful Michelle Hurst), the Haitian woman who ran an illegal immigration and child labor cleaning service, and who is now feared by the other prisoners. I’m always a softy for plot threads about strict, distant characters who gradually reveal their more tender sides. Plus, I’m a big Kate Mulgrew fan (she was the captain on “Star Trek Voyager”), who plays “Red,” the crazy Russian kitchen manager who’s the top dog in prison. So, Traci, with the infinite wisdom of 13 episodes under your belt, if you had to pick one of the prisoners to be your roommate, which one would it be?
TRACI: As my roomie? Definitely Miss Claudette. She may not throw pie for me, but she has an admirable appreciation for clean. Also, she reads, and isn’t a big talker. Just stay on her good side and you’re golden. People to avoid? The zealot meth heads. Meet them yet? My question for you: If you had to select a prison job, what would you angle for?
DONALD: My first impulse would be to work in the library. But then I might be pressured to snitch on my fellow prisoners. Part of me would vote to work in the kitchen with Red, just because she’s so crazy and powerful, and I’d get first crack at the mashed potatoes, which I love even when they’re instant and bad. But I’d draw the line at shaving Red’s legs.
Well, we should wrap this up, Oh Mighty Orange One, but before we go, I’m wondering about one thing: How do you survive when you’re through all 13 episodes, Traci? It’s like you get immersed in this whole world and then suddenly it’s gone. I moped around for a couple of weeks once I worked my way through that final, mind-tripping series finale of “Battlestar Galactica.” Any tips?
TRACI: It’s just like in second grade when your bestie moved to another school: you force yourself to go make new TV friends. I’m not going to lie, Big D; TV series marathoning is a difficult addiction to manage. You go from one series to the next like some kind of TV whore, just looking for something to love. That why I gave you the gift of “House of Cards.” It’ll keep you going until, at episode 13, you transition to the next series and the next. My worry is what happens when the entire series ends, like, forever? (I’m staring at you, “Breaking Bad.) I have no answers there.