Locked Up is the Walter Present’s version of Vis A Vis, a Spanish show that my basic grasp of the language tells me means Face to Face but Wikipedia suggests should really be called Conjugal Visits.

When you first read the synopsis and see the poster you wonder if it should be called El Amarillo Es La Nueva Naranja (That’s Yellow Is The New Orange) because it’s a show about a woman from a well-to-do family in a good job being sent to a high security prison and falling in with all kinds of people from the other side of the tracks. There’s even a burgeoning lesbian relationship, although, unlike Piper, Maca has always considered herself straight.

However, while there are some obvious similarities, in Orange Is The New Black there is only a mild sense of a plot arc in each season, each episode really tells the back story of an inmate and how they came to be in jail. OITNB also critiques, justifiably in my opinion, some of the crazier laws in the US penal code and their disproportionate effect, particularly on women of colour, although the supposed protagonist is a white woman caught by the same laws. It also looks at some of the developments in the ways US prisons are administered and their effects on inmates.

Locked Up has no ambitions that I can detect when it comes to the Spanish penal and judicial system, although my knowledge of those things is limited and there may be references I just don’t get. Spain may well need to have such a thing done, I don’t know, but Locked Up doesn’t appear to there. Instead it gives up a taut, often brutal, sometimes sexy thriller. The setting, with many of the main agents incarcerated, adds some delightful twists as you have a level of barriers to them acting outside the jail that occurs naturally, and there are plenty of twists and turns from the simple but harsh realities of prison life as well. The show doesn’t shy away from giving us gangs, drug smuggling, beatings and more, as well as tenderness, romance and wild jealousy. There are good guards, corrupt guards and weak guards trying to do the right thing. There are abusive people in positions of power and reformers butting heads with those trying to keep everyone in check. Very few of the characters are black and white, one of the most sympathetic characters is in jail for murdering her husband, other characters have interesting and quite unpredictable (at least to me) moral lines that they simply won’t cross.

This really wouldn’t be a show to use to teach schoolchildren Spanish: there is swearing, nudity, drug use, racial abuse, sexually discriminatory language and more in just about every episode. However, as adult entertainment it works just fine and it could work in an adult ed class with a very liberal education policy.

There is a season 2 after a long hiatus, which started yesterday and I am looking forward to it immensely, having just finished binging season 1.

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