Wentworth v. Orange is the New Black

Four months ago Frankie and I went to XenaCon. It is by far the gayest thing I have ever done aside from having sex and intimate relationships with women.

We had a great time. The actors who came were all sweet and kind and welcoming. Some of the Xenites had huge sticks up their asses, but we mostly ignored them in favor of finding a few cool humans to spend our weekend with.

That weekend was when I first heard the name “Wentworth.” Danielle Cormack was in attendance speaking about her role as Ephiny on Xena. When the time came to ask her a question, one of the first ones was from a Aussie woman who wanted to know what was coming down the road for Bea in the next season.

I wish I had realized how amazing Wentworth was before I went to that con. I would have had so many questions for Danielle.

In the time since XenaCon I have started and finished watching Orange is the New Black and enjoyed it immensely. But I have to say that I’m glad I watched it before I dove into Wentworth. Let it be known at this point that I am going to describe my reactions to these two shoes without a single spoiler. Because I am cool with you all like that.

I love OITNB. That said, there is something about it that feels cartoony to me. It could be the buffoonery of the guards. There isn’t a single guard or boss on that show that I take seriously. Even the villainous ones seem like villain parodies rather than actual bad guys.

On the other hand, Wentworth feels more authentic than OITNB in a lot of ways. The guards aren’t a joke, for one. They do their jobs and, when they don’t, their choice to break the rules seems much more believable to me as a viewer. Even their relationships make more sense. The mistakes and choices that they make have more impact because their connections to other characters seem really informed by their personal identities, rather than being flash-in-the-pan shock material, which OITNB delivers in spades.

Another thing that makes OITNB feel cartoony is the unrealistic hotness of some of the actresses. Not that I don’t appreciate it, mind. Because I do. But I think that hotness is an unfortunate symptom of the American television system. There are a few stellar actors on that show that don’t fall into the stereotypical box of sexiness, but they are more than balanced out by the parade of eye candy that is the rest of the women.

On the subject of hotness, the women in Wentworth are much more believable. There are a few stunningly attractive people, namely Franky Doyle. But Franky’s sexiness is explained by her position as a reality TV star on the outside. The rest of the women look like friends or people you know in your life, rather than unattainable Beautiful People. Again, this is probably due at least in part to the differences inherent in the Australian television market as compared to TV in the U.S., so it’s a somewhat unfair comparison to make, but the difference is there and it makes a difference in how I view both shows, so it needs to be said.

The content of Wentworth is also much darker. They go to more nuanced places regarding addiction as well as women’s lives both inside and outside of prison. Rape isn’t a persistent theme, thankfully, but on the occasion where it has been brought up, the consequences of and reactions to it feel very real as they are described and lived out by the people in the show.

On the whole, they are both good shows and I enjoy them immensely. But OITNB feels like junk food to me after having watched Wentworth, which feels like a hearty meal.

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