Orange Is the New Lost — How Netflix’s Prison Dramedy Can Actually Best the Island Series

Credit: Netflix

Two episodes into Orange Is the New Black and you’ll already start to entertain comparisons to another old favorite. Not Weeds, although Jenji Kohan’s new exploit does remind us fondly of how great the Showtime dramedy was when it started off, but Lost. Yes, just like every other high concept hour-long program that has come out since 2010, The New Black has already earned prospective connotation as the new Lost.

And it’s clear why — star Taylor Schilling finds herself stuck in an isolated, strange, nearly uninhabitable location, surrounded by a collection of odd strangers, many with whom she struggles to coexist, each of whom have their own stories. Starting in the second episode, these other stories begin to unfold. In the form of flashbacks.

Yes, although we spend most of our time with Schilling’s white collar Piper Chapman, serving a 15-month sentence after running some drug money with an old girlfriend more than a decade back, we do get a few glimpses into the pasts of her friends and foes in the prison — learning, in many a case, why and how these women found themselves behind bars.

Credit: Netflix

You know, just like Lost. If you replace “prison” with island,” and “behind bars” with “aboard a plane from Sydney to L.A.,” and “women” with “people.” You get the idea.

Lost devotees will surely be hesitant to sign onto Orange as a Dharma Initiative substitute. After all, this is just a goofy class system satire about some rich lady who goes to jail, right? Where’s the time travel? Where’s the smoke monster? Where’s the boat that may or may not belong to Penny?

They’re all in there. Okay, not literally, but they might as well have not been literally in Lost either. Everything on the ABC drama served entirely as a catalyst for the central goal: get these people in the same place. Learn about them. Teach one another about them. Show them, and us, that the only thing of importance is the fact that they are together.

Unfortunately, not everybody saw it this way, which is what has rendered Lost a failure in certain eyes. “What about the answers?” people ask, unwilling to accept that the only answer the show ever meant to deliver is that we don’t need, and can never know, all the answers. We just need each other.

And that seems to be what Orange is up to as well. It’s got its share of smoke monsters and polar bears: manipulative guards, doorless bathroom stalls, inedible food (don’t tell Red I said that!). All ghosts that haunt the island of Litchfield, while the varied Flight 815 passengers — and Others! — are just trying to survive until their 108 days are up. But along the way, we have a feeling that these women will come to abide by that age old Shephardian maxim: live together, die alone.

Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter | Follow on Twitter @hollywood_com

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