Orange Is the New Black is one of the funniest shows in recent memory; not in terms of inciting genuine belly laughs, but simply by giving a sense of jovially hanging out with people you find amusing. Perhaps the reason the show nails such a comedic tone is down to the fact it doesn't identify entirely as a comedy. It can go entire episodes sombrely hammering home harsh reality, and that doesn't feel like a departure from what it is.
With the memoirs of Piper Kerman only providing a frame of a show, and the comedic prowess of Orange is the New Black hinging entirely on the whims of the writers, a fan may ask exactly what they are watching, and considering the subject matter, if they should be laughing. With Season 3 just around the corner, we may be tempted to ask, is this a comedy or a drama?
Promotion for Season 3 plays up the laughs!
Perhaps this is just a feature of all promotional material for Orange is the New Black. The show has a weirdly celebratory tone for something about incarcerated women who've all but had their lives ruined. By the looks of the trailer for Season 3, it would seem that a women's prison is the most fun place anyone could be, with dancing, hanging out, dressing up, everything bar catchphrases, which I believe some of the characters are trying to push.
While there are elements of intense drama being carried over from the last season (Piper and Alex's ridiculous relationship being one of them), is there a chance Orange is the New Black Season 3 could be overtly comedic compared to its predecessors. My suspicion is that the show has made the crux of it's point, and viewers have grown accustom to the initial shock of being in prison, just as Piper has. It no longer needs to be a thesis on systems of incarceration in the US, and would rather now spend time with the cool characters it's given us.
Jenji Kohan doesn't like categories
In this interview regarding Orange is the New Black's win at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and Emmy Nominations, Jenji Kohan lays out why she's irritated by the narrow boxes shows are placed in. This is definitely understandable from the perspective of someone who runs a show that wants to win awards, but it also calls into question our endless need to categorise. Why do we as audiences need a label that fits what we're watching? The Netflix model, which Orange is the New Black seems to depend on, touts a new viewer freedom, devoid of trends observed and dictated by TV execs.
I will admit it seems somewhat ironic that a show where a woman's newborn baby is taken away so she can finish her sentence is one that can be the best knee-slapping time on TV. A certain degree of guilt is to be had in laughing at what is, in some way, injustice inflicted upon real people. That said, the ability to swing between tones of humour and tragedy is vital to creating a realistic and faithful depiction of actual human beings. The comedic side of Orange is the New Black is just as much a coping mechanism for themes of intense injustice as it is something for the viewers to enjoy.
Regardless of the discordance that Orange is the New Black may incite in some viewers, it does what it sets out to do, and it does that well, and that's a trend that looks set to continue when Season 3 is released on June 4th.