Netflix’s hit prison series takes a funny turn

Published Mar 21, 2014 at 12:01AM

This is where the word “dramedy” stops being a useful descriptor and starts getting confusing. Netflix has decided that its hit series “Orange Is the New Black,” the critically adored dramedy that debuted last summer, officially falls in the comedy category — for the purpose of award season, anyway. Previously, the show about life in a women’s prison had been submitted to the Golden Globes and SAG Awards as a drama.

Why the change? When we asked, a Netflix rep pointed us to a statement released to the Hollywood Reporter: “Creator Jenji Kohan’s vision has been uncompromising, and while the show tackles real issues, it does so through its use of humor,” it read. “‘Orange’ uniquely blends comedy and drama in its hour-long episodes and simply defies standard categorization.”

Well, by “defying standard categorization,” they could mean the show does really well when it’s considered a comedy series, and not so much as a drama. When submitted as a comedy, “Orange” landed multiple nominations at the Writers Guild of America Awards and won several Satellite Awards, including best comedy series. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Orange” got left in the dust.

So, Netflix reversed course before the Emmys. Smart move. It was puzzling why the show had ever been in the drama category. As a dark comedy following the interwoven stories of various women in lockup, it usually lands more on the “funny” side, with quite a few one-liners in between tragic back stories.

Plus, there’s much more tough competition in the drama world: At the Globes, star Taylor Schilling, who does an excellent job portraying the fish-out-of-water lead character, had to compete against Julianna Margulies of “The Good Wife,” Kerry Washington of “Scandal,” Tatiana Maslany of “Orphan Black” and eventual winner Robin Wright of “House of Cards.”

What does this mean for the show? It still won’t be a strict comedy, by any means.

A new inmate is joining Litchfield Penitentiary. “Lorraine Toussaint joins as Yvonne ‘Vee’ Parker, and she disclosed to the crowd that her character is a street-wise drug maven who runs children,” the Los Angeles Times reported recently after a cast panel in Hollywood. “So, yeah, pretty ruthless.” Kohan also revealed that getting the flashback treatment this season are: Vee, Taystee, Lorna, Sister Ingalls and Miss Rosa.

“Everyone has their moments to shine,” Kohan said.

— The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.