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Prison Wives and Whiny Narcissism: Highlights from the 'Orange Is the New Black' PaleyFest Panel

By Vivian Kane | Industry | March 17, 2014 |

By Vivian Kane | Industry | March 17, 2014 |

We still have a few more months to wait until the second season premier of Orange is the New Black (80 days, to be exact but who’s counting? Not me, I’M TOTALLY PATIENT.) But to get us through this dry spell between binge watching sessions, there’s PaleyFest. The cast and creator didn’t drop any major teaser bombs, but there was some good stuff there.


What makes Netflix different
The panel, which included twelve cast members plus Jenji Kohan, talked a lot about what makes Netflix so special. Everyone seemed to appreciate not having a network to meddle and micromanage. Additionally, most of the cast admitted to having a House of Cards obsession, and acknowledged the way Netflix is changing the viewership game. With whole seasons being released at once, it’s definitely changed the way Kohan writes (different pacing, no need for recapping), as well as the way we watch. Yael Stone (who plays Lorna) had a suggestion for those shows that absorb us for days on end: “I think there should be a warning half way through that’s like ‘change your underpants.’”

What to expect from season two
Everyone was very careful to only talk about information that’s already been released. But Kohan did talk a bit about the process of writing a second season. She had crafted season one to be a stand-alone entity, because there was no guarantee that there would be a second season. She said,

But of course when you’re doing this there’s all this stuff in your back pocket and there’s all these desires to explore more, and season two is more.

On being asked whose backstories we’ll get to see in the new season, she named Lorna, The Nun, Taystee, Sadie, Poussey, and Miss Rosa. Kate Mulgrew offered up Caputo and was promptly shushed by everyone on stage. Intrigue!

There will also be a new character, Vee, played by veteren TV superstar Lorraine Toussaint. Toussant didn’t say a word for the first 52 ½ minutes of the panel. When she was finally asked about her character she said,”As silent as I’ve been this evening is as silent as I am in season 2. I certainly enter as such.” She described Vee as “a street-wise drug maven who runs children” and then promptly scanned the audience for judgement. She also said of her character, “She’s not afraid of intimacy,” and everyone on stage looked like she’d cracked a major inside joke. Smells like lady love to me.

On the types of characters in the show
Much of the conversation was dedicated to talking about the types of characters we see on Orange Is the New Black, and how proud everyone was to be a part of that. During the Q&A and audience member asked Taylor Schilling about the character of Piper and the criticism that many viewers throw her way, namely that she comes off “narcissistic and whiney.” Jenji Kohan responded in her defense,

Why can’t a character on TV be narcissistic and whiny? Why does everyone have to be perfect? We all have our moments of bad behavior and not putting our best face forward, and why shouldn’t that be reflected?

Uzo Aduba, AKA Crazy Eyes, AKA the coolest person in the room, followed that up with her own thoughts.

When you walk into the prison and you see someone like Piper and you have a very clear opinion of every single one of us on this stage, be it because of the makeup, the hair, the look, the size, what have you. You have a very distinct idea of who you think these people are and I think what really is exciting about this show is throughout the 13 episodes you get to see every single person become a little bit more unpacked, and you start to understand them to maybe slightly more or less than who you thought they were. I think that’s incredible. And for better or worse, whether it’s narcissism or whiny or whether it’s you know, crazy or not crazy or, you know, fashionable or not, you know whatever the point of view that you had of them in the beginning, that’s who we are.

The thing the real Piper hates about the show
Kohan mentioned at one point that she wasn’t able to use any of the characters from the memoir the show is based on (except Piper) because none of them had signed a release. So the characters on the show are either composites or fictionalized. Rather than limiting the story, this has allowed Kohan and the actors to create full, rich characters. Piper apparently hated this, though, as it related to the prison guards. Kohan said Piper was upset that the guards were being humanized, because that wasn’t her experience. Michael Harney, who plays Healy, had what I’m sure were brilliant insights about exploring complicated, disturbing characters and finding things that are “not true to life, but true to the inner life” of the characters and humanity as a whole, but his collection of hemp necklaces made it hard to think of anything but my middle school boyfriend. I’m sure it was very eloquent and thoughtful, though.

The best moment of the whole damn thing
At one point the cast called out Lea DeLaria (Big Boo), who was in the audience. (WHY WAS SHE IN THE AUDIENCE AND NOT ON STAGE?) Rather than use the stairs, DeLaria tried so hilariously awkwardly (and unsuccessfully) to jump up on stage, before being hoisted up by two men (including a reluctant Jason Biggs). Once she was up, she was eager to share what the show has done for her.

I can’t believe what’s happened for me in my life. I’ve been this out person for a long time. But usually when a 16 year old boy walks up to on the street it’s to spit in my face and call me dyke. And now it’s to hug me and tell me how much he loves Orange Is the New Black.

Runner up for best moment
This really was a conversation for and about the women. Much of the panel was spent talking about how incredible it is to work with so many awesome women, and to put these new types of characters out into the world. The moderator did try to include Biggs and Harney as much as possible, and at one point, when joking about Bigg’s character’s masturbatory habits, she slipped up and asked him “tell me what you think of Jason” (instead of Larry, his character). Well, Biggs ran with that one.

I have a few thoughts. Kinda handsome, a little quirky, funny at times. Not a bad actor, not the best. You know, I think he hasn’t filled into the potential that he has. I think he’s got a future but like, you know, he MAY have peaked.

And on his and Piper’s wedding: “It’s red. Like Game of Thrones.”

Finally, a note on prison wives
At the very end of the night, an audience member asked everyone to choose who they would pick for their prison wife, were they locked up. Everyone pretty much squirmed in their seats and shrugged it off. Taylor Schilling said she’d be down for polygamy and chose “everyone.” Laura Prepon gave the same answer and actually got booed for the cop-out. The only one to give a direct answer was Laverne Cox who said matter of factly, “Alex.”


If you have 75 minutes to kill and want to spend some time with these amazing women before June 6 rolls around, you can watch the whole thing here.

Vivian Kane would also choose Alex, duh.

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