By Sara Stewart | Women and Hollywood June 4, 2014 at 12:08PM
Orange is the New Black is back Friday, all 13 episodes of the second season will be miraculously available at 12:01 AM on Netflix. And what a return it is. I've only seen the first episode, and suddenly all my other must-see TV seems so, well, superfluous. I won't ruin anything by divulging too many plot details, but it starts off strong, and promises to only get stronger.
In brief, Piper (Taylor Schilling) is hauled out of solitary, where she's been since last season's harrowing closer in which she beat Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) to a pulp -- and possibly death. She's sent on a journey to an unknown destination, denied information and a pee break by unconcerned male guards (who are nevertheless discussing amongst themselves how it's now inappropriate to use the term "bitch").
That the episode is directed by Jodie Foster makes so much sense to me. Like much of the cast of OITNB, she's a woman who's never fit into the traditional feminine entertainment-industry mold. But I was even happier to see a face from the past show up as an inmate: Lori Petty.
Petty only had a brief run in the spotlight in the early nineties, but she brought something new to the big screen that I naively thought was a sure sign of impending diversity for women in film. Hers was a raucous, androgynous presence so different from the other stars of the decade (Winona, Alicia, Gwyneth, Meg -- ultra-feminine, all!). Petty's characters started shit. They were a little edgy. Not easy romantic marks. And she sported short hair -- like, really short. If I could have picked someone to go on to star in the first big female superhero movie (you know, the one we're still waiting for), my choice would have been her.
In Point Break, Petty wasn't just arm candy for Keanu's character (though, okay, she eventually had to endure the stereotypical kidnapping scenario): she was a surfer herself, and she did her own stunts alongside the boys. Here she is talking about the ten stitches she got during filming, among other things.
In the women's-baseball movie A League of Their Own, her character Kit was the scrappy little sister to Geena Davis' glamorous lead. (Petty was allegedly a speedier runner than Davis, and had to tone it down so Davis could appear faster.)
But the real reason I've always held a torch for Petty is Tank Girl, a fairly bad movie based on a decent comic. That said, it was still a deliciously campy flag-wave for riot grrrl-hood. Courtney Love was even the executive soundtrack coordinator; check out the Hole song in the trailer.
Despite the movie's myriad shortcomings, even the New York Times had to concede the inherent appeal of Petty, with Janet Maslin writing that "Tank Girl may be sending out a dog-whistle signal to its own special constituency, fans of an androgynous punk heroine who's so underground she's almost buried.... Chief among its strong points is Lori Petty, a buzz-cut fashion plate in a Prozac necklace, who brings the necessary gusto to Tank Girl's flippancy."
So whatever happened to Petty? (And androgynous punk heroines, for that matter?)
She went on to write and direct a movie about her own troubled adolescence in the south, for one thing. 2008's The Poker House ended up garnering better reviews than anything she ever starred in. It also featured a young actress in her feature film debut, playing Petty's character. Her name? Jennifer Lawrence.
Petty's done her share of guest spots on TV in recent years (House, Prison Break, CSI: NY), but there's something really gratifying about seeing her show up on OITNB under the direction of Foster. Looking like a real person, I might add: like nearly all the women on this show, she's got a face that looks like a real face, devoid of obvious surgical tinkering and with the lines that show she's lived a life. Still sporting the super-short hair and that chirpy cartoon voice.
After watching the episode, I found myself reminiscing about Petty and concluded someone like her would never get as far today, as a young star, as she did in the nineties. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe OITNB, and its runaway popularity, is paving the way for a new crop of unconventional female actors and shows.
Or maybe not. Petty is still obviously nostalgic for that role and that era, as she articulated in an awesomely loopy piece for Bullett Media:
"While I'm directing youngsters who end up making millions (they're young and beautiful and talented and rich as fuck, and I'm only old and beautiful and talented), other famous girls their age are getting poison shot into their lips -- and foreheads and knees and elbows -- before they can legally drink champagne. I'd like to hear how many ways you could say, "Maybe you should go fuck y'self," if someone told you to get implants in your butt."
My sense is that Petty's appearance on the show is a one-time thing, but here's hoping not. In any case, I'm awfully glad to see her face again, especially in the company of other "go fuck y'self" types.