Wentworth – The Better Orange is the New Black
So you’ve finished binging season four of Orange is the New Black and you don’t know what to do next. How about checking out Wentworth on Netflix? There has been many comparisons between Orange is the New Black (OITNB) and Wentworth. In my opinion, I think Wentworth is the stronger of the two when comparing each series in full. Wentworth has consistently out-done itself in each new season with heavy hitting story lines and fascinating characters. In contrast, OITNB had a strong first season but the seasons gets weaker as they continue in my opinion. Wentworth follows Bea Smith who got put into prison for attempting to murder her abusive husband. While awaiting trial, she learns the harsh ways of prison life. Caution: Wentworth is a much darker program than Orange is the New Black as you can see from the contrasting promotion photos below.
Although OITNB focuses more on the comedic and dramatic happenings while in prison, Wentworth is more about the competition to be “top dog” in prison. Wentworth also delves into the contrast between the prisoners and the guards (evidenced by the promotion photo above where the inmates are staring down the governor (warden) of the prison). In the end, the inmates and the guards are all flawed people with their own problems. Although each inmate has done something to get into prison, Wentworth doesn’t always focus on that. They instead focus on what the inmates are doing to become better people, and the drama surrounding the hierarchy of the prison system.
Similarities and Differences
Wentworth is set in an Australian women’s prison and OITNB is set in a women’s prison in upstate New York. Both shows have many similarities but they also have many differences. Both feature backstories of inmates and what they did to end up in prison. Each episode of OITNB throughout its three seasons focuses on a specific character’s backstory. Wentworth, however focuses on a character’s backstory for only the first season, and occasionally throughout the other two seasons for plot purposes. Wentworth is much darker in plot and lighting than OITNB, although there are some instances of comedic relief. The cinematography of the show and editing give the show a darker feel as well. The prisoners’ uniforms are blue and the coloring of the show matches that. With OITNB, the lighting and coloring of the show is bright to give the show a more comedic feel rather than the dark tones typical with most dramas. Look at these stark contrasts below.
Some characters and plot points are also similar between the two shows because each show strives to represent diversity in prison with inmates and their differences. LGBT+ representation is extremely prevalent in both shows. For example, both feature transgender characters with OITNB’s Sophia Burset (played by actress Laverne Cox) and Wentworth’s Maxine Conway (played by actor Socratis Otto who first appears in season 2). There is also a lesbian main character named Franky Doyle (played by actress Nicole da Silva) in Wentworth. Franky (whose real name is Francesca) does not follow the stereotypes of lesbian characters on American television. She is one of the most bad-ass characters on the show with astounding character development over the course of the three seasons.
Each show features a main inmate who the audience follows along with from the get-go before branching out to other characters. In OITNB, we are introduced to Litchfield Prison through Piper Chapman (played by actress Taylor Schilling). In Wentworth, we follow along through Bea Smith’s perspective in prison (played by actress Danielle Cormack).
Wentworth focuses more on the struggle for power within prison and the guards’ responses to it. OITNB does focus on the struggle for power in some regards (like with Red and Gloria and Red and Vee) but those storylines are not season-long arcs like in Wentworth. In the end, both shows at their cores are about the family that one develops while in prison. Characters in both shows start out as inmates you didn’t know anything about but they grow to be characters you care for or hate who have troubled pasts and emotional depths to them.
All in all, both shows have their strengths and flaws, but Wentworth is the better of the two if you’re really looking for great dramatic storytelling. My favorite comparison I’ve heard between the two shows is “Wentworth is to Orange Is the New Black, what Breaking Bad is to Weeds.” That really describes the comparison best with the dark and gritty versus the light and comedic. Season four of Wentworth concluded at the end of July 2016 for Australian audiences to an action-packed finale. Seasons 1-4 are available now on USA Netflix with a 5th season to air in Australia in Spring 2017. Have something to add about how great or horrible Orange is the New Black or Wentworth is? Let me know on Twitter or in the comments!