Orange Is the New Black: 5 Things To Know Before You Watch

orange-is-new-black-300Prison comes with a shiv-sharp learning curve. Fortunately, for viewers of Orange Is The New Black, the latest project from Weeds creator Jenji Kohan, we have a few pointers to share.

The Netflix original series (premiering Thursday) follows girl-next-door Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling, Mercy), who once smuggled drug money for former girlfriend Alex (Laura Prepon, That ’70s Show) and now faces 15 months in jail. Before the series bows, keep these five tidbits from the creator and cast on your radar.

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IT’S NOT A DIRECT TRANSLATION OF THE BOOK… | Orange is based on the real-life tale of Piper Kerman, who wrote a memoir of her experience in a women’s prison in 2010. But how much did Kohan rely on that firsthand account? “You know, at some point, we just abandon it,” she laughs. “I love Piper, and I e-mail her all the time when I want to get the facts right. [But] the book, while fantastic, is relatively conflict-free, and we have to make a TV show.”

…BUT IT DOESN’T SKIMP ON DETAILS | Although the show is an adaptation of Kerman’s memoir, the author said many of the show’s little details really do happen in jail – even the weird ones, like Piper wearing maxi pads on her feet while showering. “Those things are, if not literal, then incredibly close,” Kerman admits. “That’s exactly the kind of resilience and resourcefulness that you have to have if you’re gonna make it.”

IT’S NOT YOUR AVERAGE COMEDY | Describing Orange as a dramedy seems too easy. But American Pie’s Jason Biggs (who stars as Piper’s loving fiancee) gives anyone expecting belly laughs fair warning about the show’s “specific tone” of humor. “It’s funny, but there’s also some real intensity and real humanity to the whole thing,” he says.

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IT’S A GOOD IDEA TO TUCK THE KIDS IN BED FIRST | Sex, drugs and nudity are cornerstones of the show’s pilot episode – in the first 10 seconds alone! But after Showtime gave her the freedom to be racy on Weeds, Kohan says she thinks “streaming, cable and Netflix” are the best arenas for a “no-holds-barred” approach like the one she takes on Orange. “That’s where I’m gonna go these days,” she laughs.

IT TUGS AT THE HEARTSTRINGS | For every gasp-inducing prison scene that Orange offers, Schilling says the show provides a healthy dose of compassion to balance the scales. “I was really surprised by the strong relationships between the women in prison and the alliances and support they give each other,” she says. “I was surprised by how much they take care of each other.”