The woman behind Weeds — no, not Nancy Botwin, but Jenji Kohan — is back with another addictive dramedy, this time taking viewers inside a real-as-it-gets women’s federal penitentiary. Based on a true story, Orange Is the New Black (now available on Netflix) follows Piper Chapman (played by a very convincing Taylor Schilling) as she trades in her Brooklyn yuppie life with a loving fiancé for 15 months in lock-up and a prison wife.
If you liked that dark, humorous vibe from the early (better) part of Weeds, you’ll be hooked. The prison setting is scary and gross, but not overly so, and the characters — a crazy mix of realistic female inmates — are what seal the deal on this show, which was already picked up for a second season before the first even debuted.
Orange opens with Piper turning herself in for crimes she committed years before, but we get peeks at her life — and the backstories of all the prisoners — at poignant moments throughout the series. For example, when the inmates starve Piper out for dissing the cafeteria food, we get a glimpse at a time she voluntarily deprived herself of solids … for a juice cleanse.
As the WASPy Piper grows accustomed to prison life, balancing the expectations of her loved ones outside with that of the shady authority figures inside, she must decide what she wants this experience to be. How involved she will allow herself to get in the lives of these women? Should she try to help fix this corrupt system or keep her nose down and just serve her comparably short time?
As Netflix racked up 14 Emmy nominations last week — the first time digital format series were included — it looks like more quality programming will be coming straight to our streaming devices. And it’s my prediction that Orange will definitely be on the nomination ballot this time next year.
WEDNESDAY JULY 24
Top Chef Masters (Series Premiere, 10 p.m., Bravo) – Thirteen chefs compete for the title in Season Five.
In this first throw-down, they’re cooking for professional skydivers — and get to take a high-flying jump themselves. The chefs’ second-in-commands will also compete in “Battle of the Sous Chefs” at bravotv.com.
The Challenge: Rivals II (10 p.m., MTV) – I would be interested in a decent, HBO-style documentary on the lives of people who went on The Real World or Road Rules and continued to sign up for these challenges, putting themselves through physical/emotional/alcoholic/televised hell, again and again. But for now, there’s this.
THURSDAY JULY 25
Project Runway (9 p.m., Lifetime) – The designers base their looks off precious gems. Gossip Girl costume designer Eric Daman guest-judges.
Wilfred (10 p.m., FX) – Ryan and Wilfred channel their inner superheroes.
FRIDAY JULY 26
Comedy Bang! Bang! (10 p.m., IFC) – Anna Kendrick and Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation’s Jean-Ralphio) take turns on the couch. Scott and Reggie preview their new movie and ponder parenthood.
SUNDAY JULY 28
Dexter (9 p.m., Showtime) -– Dexter and Deb try to protect Vogel when she makes contact with the Brain Surgeon. And a surprise to no one, Masuka has a kid.
True Blood (9 p.m., HBO) – Eric pulls an “All Hail Billith” in an attempt to save Nora; Sam returns to Bon Temps, despite Alcide’s warning; Sarah covers up Burrell’s death and plots revenge on Jason.
Naked and Afraid (10 p.m., Discovery) – Two strangers prepped with survival skills (think outdoorsmen and -women, people with military backgrounds, hunting and foraging expertise, etc.) and one personal item are stranded on a remote location with extreme environments. And, yes, they’re butt-ass nekkid. They are not provided with any food, water, shelter or medicine and the duo must work together to survive for 21 days. It’s Survivor on steroids!
The Newsroom (10 p.m., HBO) – Jim continues to be ignored on the Romney campaign trail; another Genoa witness comes forward on Twitter; Will drops a truth bomb on Nina Howard.
MONDAY JULY 29
First Comes Love (9 p.m., HBO) – Proving there are many ways to make a baby, documentary filmmaker Nina Davenport takes viewers through her non-traditional journey to single motherhood that includes a gay sperm donor, artificial insemination and a best friend birthing partner.
TUESDAY JULY 30
Drunk History (10 p.m., Comedy Central) – Boston brings us Mary Dyer stickin’ it to the Puritans, a $500 million art heist and the most notorious New England arsonist.
CONTACT JAC KERN: email@example.com or @jackern