I just finished watching 3 seasons of OTNB and its pretty amazing. It feels like there's enough meat in the show to make it worthy of a Masters' thesis, if not a Ph.D.
The characterisation is pretty amazing. There are no black/whites, its all gray, and superbly done. Nobody, but nobody on the show is without genuinely dark parts in their personality. And those who start off as assholes acquire acquire majorly redeeming qualities as the show progresses.
The show has real empathy for the women in the prison, and teaches subtly and beautifully, the disaster that a modern prison is, as a humane way of dealing with those who chase the law. At the same time, it doesn't offer any simplistic solutions for how to improve the system. I found the show really eye-opening and hopefully altered my worldview permanently.
In its flashbacks to the lives of the inmates before they ended up in prison, it paints a picture of the the huge struggle that life is for those coming from underpriviledged backgrounds, or dysfunctional families.
It also beautifully plays off the black, white and Latino sub-cultures beautifully. In particular, it does a great job of viewing the world from a black person's perspective, and there is some hilarious skewering of (for want of a better description) 'white culture'. "Really quiet sex" :-))). In this aspect the lead character Piper Chapman is really a 'Trojan Horse' to start an exploration of women from a whole host of different backgrounds. The show genuinely does not use the other characters as a background for the lead in a really praiseworthy way. Piper Chapman is peripheral to the social life of the prison and hardly the soul of the party - she is a loner and doesn't participate actively in any of the social groups. Quite a remarkable feat that the show's creators and directors manage to pull off.
As a guy its pretty interesting to see (a version of) how women talk about guys and sex among themselves. It feels pretty authentic.
One of the characters is an anti-abortion activist and it gives the show an opportunity to explore this issue. Its one of the few topics on which the show is one-sided; there is no sympathetic portrayal of a pro-abortion stance.
At one point Piper (the putative lead character) starts a business of selling used women criminals' panties on the Internet. I love the deadpan way this thing is handled with no judging of the guys who want to buy these things, or the women who set out to satisfy their kink. The rationale is simple and direct; to paraphrase what's said on the show - some creepy guys want this stuff, and we need the money so lets go for it.
There's some really hilarious skewering of the corporate culture when a private company takes over the prison from the government.
I'm planning to stop watching the show now however. I'm judging that its falling into the usual trap of milking success and extending beyond what's natural. And its time to get back to real life too.