Could Laura Prepon’s Departure Make ‘Orange Is The New Black’ A More Interesting Show?


Credit: Netflix

Laura Prepon’s given an excellent performance on Orange Is The New Black as Alex, the former lover of the main character, Piper (Taylor Schilling), who convinced her to mule drug money, an act that long after their breakup landed Piper in prison. But as Kate Aurthur reports, Prepon’s role in the second season will be limited:

Laura Prepon has gotten fantastic reviews for her portrayal of Alex in Orange Is the New Black — but she will not be a series regular in Season 2, according to sources close to the show.
Prepon will come back for a limited number of episodes in the show’s 13-episode second season in order to resolve her story. And the door will be left often for her to return in the future. But the actress did not sign a contract tying her to the show for the upcoming season.

As much as I’ve enjoyed watching Prepon work–and frankly, as much as I think, if this is her decision, it’s a nutty one considering the other material she’s worked with recently–I actually wonder if wrapping up Alex’s storyline might be a wise decision for Orange. Series creator Jenji Kohan’s been frank about the extent to which her decision to adapt Piper Kerman’s memoir, and to focus on Piper herself, was a strategic decision, a calculation that Piper’s character would give her an opportunity tell the stories that she found more interesting. Kohan explained to NPR that:

In a lot of ways Piper was my Trojan Horse. You’re not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories. But it’s a hard sell to just go in and try to sell those stories initially. The girl next door, the cool blonde, is a very easy access point, and it’s relatable for a lot of audiences and a lot of networks looking for a certain demographic. It’s useful.

It’s a tough assessment of the television industry’s priorities. But it would also be impressive if Kohan backed it up. Piper’s character was never on a particularly long sentence. And as Piper Kerman has written, using the occasion of a show to further her prison reform advocacy, prisoners are frequently transferred to new facilities, often at considerable cost to their families and their relationships with their children. It would be creatively audacious, a gentler version of lopping off Ned Stark’s head, to run through Piper’s story, to transfer Alex to another facility, and turn Orange‘s focus to the other prisoners on the show, and to add new prisoners who aren’t as immediately relatable. This would give the women of color who are part of Orange‘s outrageously talented cast more space to work, and Kohan the opportunity to tell different–and more common–prison stories.

Orange Is The New Black is already a game-changing show. But a willingness to make it a lightly anthologized series in the vein of American Horror Story, and one that focuses more on incarcerated women of color than on white main characters could make it an extraordinary exception to the normal rules of television.