Black Is the Color of Serial TV Viewing

A solution for viewers puzzled over the wide choice of quality TV series.

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Contradictory qualities. Taylor Schilling in a scene from 'Orange is the New Black.'
Contradictory qualities. Taylor Schilling in a scene from 'Orange is the New Black.'Credit: AP

One character I’ve gotten acquainted with and learned to fear because of watching TV is the serial killer. Every police procedural or detective series introduces one sooner or later. A serial killer, if you’ve never encountered one (on the screen, I mean) is an individual who bears a grudge – based on a childhood trauma, apparently – and some years later targets a series of victims who bear, in his or her mind, some resemblance to the real or perceived perpetrator of said trauma.

Police and detective series like serial killers because their stories introduce a pattern that allows for a suspenseful plot: The criminal pits his wits against the detective and shows off his morbid skills, taunting and frightening his adversary and encouraging copycat crimes, thus spawning several story lines.

The other character I’ve learned to live with (and even love) is the serial viewer. If you have never encountered one – which I seriously doubt – this is someone who watches, serially and seriously, the myriad of TV series on offer. Every series means a commitment. You sample the first episode of the first season fully aware that you are in danger of getting hooked. That means filling your diary with too many weekly meetings with fictional characters; it may result in spending most of your time series-
hopping and needing to be wary of spoilers.

As any detective investigating a serial killer knows, the most important thing is to establish a pattern within a seemingly arbitrary order of bizarre events. Likewise, a serial viewer needs to establish a pattern within his series viewing schedule. As for myself – the only serial viewer I know with some measure of intimacy – I’ve decided to impose a strictly arbitrary pattern on my serial viewing life, and go by color.

To be precise, one color: black. Three series premiered in 2013 in the U.S. and were beamed and streamed to Israel: a Canadian-American series, “Orphan Black,” followed by “Orange is the New Black,” produced by Netflix, and “The Blacklist,” produced by NBC. All of them have been renewed for a second season.

Let’s start with the second one, 
“Orange is the New Black,” based on a book by the same title by Piper Kerman, depicting the time she spent in a women’s prison. The main character, played by Taylor Schilling, is a young bisexual woman whose drug-smuggling past catches up with her when she is already into a second, normative chapter of her life. If you have never seen it, think captivity, freedom, women, prison, guards, sexual identity, past, present, future, normal, deviant, etc. It is screened on HOT 3, with all 13 episodes of the second season on view from June 10, merely three days after the U.S. premiere. A third season has already been commissioned.

The title deserves a small digression. Orange is the color of prisoners’ garb, of course, while “black” refers to the varied, and sometimes contradictory, qualities associated with this color.

Since time immemorial, black has been associated with melancholy, witchcraft, evil and mourning. However, sometime in the 14th century, the black aura started to acquire some different hues, and it gradually turned into a color that implied austerity, severity, authority, and finally fashion and elegance. It is said that every woman needs a little black dress in her wardrobe, which is replaced in prison by the mandatory orange uniform. The color plays a major role in matters of race, ethnicity and equality, as in “Black is beautiful” and “Black is the color of my true love’s hair.”

The phrase “Orange is the New Black” is a “snowclone,” a neologism that is a way of highlighting a new trend. For example, there is a much exaggerated claim that “TV series are the new literature,” which I for one do not support.

But as I’ve already mentioned clones, that is what “Orphan Black” is all about. In it, Tatiana Maslany plays several characters who look alike; they are clones produced in the Dyad 
Institute by a group called the Neolutionists, as an experiment in engineering evolutionary processes. This was once a “black op” in the sense of a clandestine activity, seemingly not authorized legally, but functioning nevertheless. Action series like black ops (like Division in “Nikita” or B-613 in “Scandal”) because they usually start to run their own agenda and have to be hunted, which is tricky, since they do not officially exist. You can follow “Orphan Black,” with its main character, Sarah Manning, and her doppelgangers on HOT 3, with the second season of 10 episodes already running in the U.S., soon to be screened here. The titles of season one’s episodes are quotes from Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.” The episodes of the second season are taken from chapters in a book by Sir Francis Bacon.

That leaves “The Blacklist,” which in the series is a list of notoriously dangerous criminals, possessed by a former (now renegade) FBI agent named Raymond “Red” Reddington; he turns himself in so he can hunt them down. The episode titles are the nicknames of the hunted, and Reddington is played by James Spader, looking much more sinister than his sleek, suave persona on “Boston Legal.” Although the last episode was broadcast on Yes Action on June 1, the whole season is showing on Yes VOD. The second season is in the making.

As you can see, “Black is black, I want my baby back,” but the account of my viewing time is seriously in the red.

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