It’s common wisdom in the entertainment business that women will happily consume and enjoy fictions about both men and women, but that most men only enjoy fictions about other men. Having recently finished watching and loving Netflix’s new series Orange Is The New Black, about life inside a minimum security women’s prison, it occurred to me that this may be the first time in my memory that TV has offered me, a woman, so many high-quality shows about other women that I could, if I wanted, be as totally blinkered in my taste as men have long had enough good choices to be.
Orange, which follows a Smith graduate as she serves time for transporting drug money a decade ago, may showcase the greatest number of substantial parts for women of all ages and races ever assembled. By rough count there are 20-some women with distinct characterizations, motivations, and personalities, almost all of whom are as—if not more—interesting than the lead character, the blond Piper Chapman. That’s not a knock on Chapman or Taylor Schilling, the actress who plays her: There’s just no shortage of affluent, self-aware, educated narcissists who enjoy the creature comforts of a Brooklyn lifestyle on TV. There has been a shortage, though, of sweet but racist Italians who sound like lost members of the Pink Ladies; transgendered hairdressers who used to be firemen; street kids who keep lists of everything they steal; good-girl sprinters consumed by bitterness and anger after one mistake; child-killers trying to work it through with yoga and self-administered electroshock; and Latinas who loves the Smiths. (We don’t know very much about that last character yet, but that’s why there’s a second season.)