Jenji Kohan

Choosing the topic for today’s post was tough. When you’re doing a lot of writing (as I have been with my med school apps), you also tend to find yourself doing other things. It varies – I’ve done guitar playing, online game playing, and more recently, a lot of TV watching. I’m sure I’m not alone in this… *cough* … amb … *cough*

It came down to two choices:

  • Tippi Hedren, screen starlet of yore, who recently made a cameo on Cougar Town as an object of Jules Kiki Cobb‘s father’s affection
  • Jenji Kohan, screen writer of today, most famous for her shows Weeds, and a new favorite of mine, Orange is the New Black

As you can tell by the title of today’s post, Jenji took the cake.

And awesome scarves!

And awesome scarves!

Why? Because her name is Jenji, obviously! That, and she’s built a reputation as tinseltown’s go-to source for hard-luck, fallen-from-grace female protagonists.

In Weeds, Kohan introduced the world to Nancy Botwin (played by Mary-Louise Parker, who won a Best Actress Golden Globe for the role), a PTA-attending soccer mom who turns to drug dealing in order to maintain her upper-middle-class lifestyle after her husband died of a heart attack. Suffice it to say that her activities led her into some interesting situations over the course of the show’s 8-season run.

For at least five seasons, the show was a juggernaut artistic accomplishment and one of Showtime’s flagship shows, although over time it became harder to suspend disbelief about the ridiculous situations the Botwin family found themselves getting into.

Weeds’ finale aired in 2012, and Jenji Kohan wasted no time in launching her next endeavor, the Netflix original series Orange Is The New Black, which first aired in July of this year. The show follows the life of protagonist Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling, and based on a real-life memoir by Piper Kerman), a wealthy, college-educated lady whose past forays with drug smuggling landed her a stint in women’s prison years later, much to the surprise of Piper and her fiance. The show – much like Weeds in that it combines drama and comedy – also stars Laura Prepon (a.k.a. Donna from That 70’s Show) and has gained significant critical acclaim. It’s a rip-roarin’ romp, and totally worth watching.

That's funny, because when I unplug, my blogging buddies call me anything but present!

It would only take a tiny bit of white-out to turn this into “I Unplug to Represent!” which is the kind of hardcore statement I’ve come to expect from Jenji.

But Weeds wasn’t Kohan’s first rodeo. Her father is Buz Kohan, an Emmy Award-winning writer, and her brother David (who has a twin named Jono Kohan) is an Emmy Award-winning producer. Jenji got her start writing a teleplay for The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, then moved on to shows like Sex and the City, Gilmore Girls and Tracey Takes On, the latter of which brought Kohan the first of her 7 Emmy nominations (and to date, her only win).

Early on, Kohan worked for her brother on Will and Grace, but decided to go the darker, more innovative route, to great results. It let her write on her own terms, and with her trademark rawness and wit, as evidenced by this quote when she signed a long-term deal with LionsGate.

“Having gotten to second base with Lionsgate in my former ‘under the shirt but over the bra’ deal, it’s a thrill to now be in bed with them and going all the way,” Kohan told Variety. “Let us hope our creative offspring make us both proud and happy for years to come. And when I say ‘come’, don’t read into it. It’s a business deal. Get your minds out of the gutter.”

After receiving some criticism for casting an attractive white lead in Orange Is The New Black, Kohan said that Piper was her “Trojan horse,” that allowed her to get the show picked up for a production deal, which then let her write about race, violence, and the raunchier side of women’s prison.

Gotta respect that kind of honesty. And seriously, check out Orange Is The New Black if you get the chance. You go, Jenji!

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About Dave

Based out of San Diego, California. Co-founder of the Blog of Funny Names. funnynamesblog.wordpress.com
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26 Responses to Jenji Kohan

  1. amb says:

    I’m sorry, I can’t talk about my ridiculous television viewing schedule right now

    (I have 3 shows at 10pm tonight and can only record 2 at a time! It’s like my own version of Sophie’s Choice!!)

    because I’m too busy swooning over the thought of you playing guitar.

    • Dave says:

      Oh no, that’s a tragedy! What are the three? I’m sure a bright lady like you will figure it out.

      … and I’m glad I can still make you swoon! It’s all I live for these days 🙂

      • amb says:

        “The Blacklist”, “Hostages” and “Castle”. Oh, the humanity!

        If I was home tonight I could watch one and record the other two, but I’m going to an art show charity event. Until you apply to UofT, I have to try and meet generous, talented boys who actually live in my city. xo.

  2. ksbeth says:

    the family was really into the unusual ‘j’ names weren’t they? i’ve heard great things about the show –

  3. Tippi Hedron, she will always be a favorite of mine for her performance in “The Birds”. I suspect it was tough playing a female protagonist for Hitchcock, but very memorable.

    I love that you covered such a talented screen writer. I did not know about her pedigree. Always learning something new at the BoFN.

    • Dave says:

      I agree – The Birds was a tough but memorable role, and I’m glad that you’re still learning from us. As soon as that stops happening, I feel like I should stop writing (or perhaps I’ll just have to improve my game a bit 🙂 ).

    • amb says:

      That movie messed Tippi up, man. Rumour has it that Hitch tried to arrange, um, “private acting lessons” with her at the beginning of the shoot, and when she said no, he spent the rest of filming making her as miserable as possible. That scene where the birds attack and she’s trapped in the phone booth? He left her on the soundstage alone – the set was cleared and the crew was ordered not to talk to her or let her out !!!

  4. wdydfae says:

    Man, lots of interesting stuff I’m missing out on in the tv world these days!

    Is there some kind of “breaking bad” juice circulating around the zeiteist?

    • Dave says:

      Not sure. Honestly I haven’t gotten into Breaking Bad yet (but will soon, I’m sure… I tend to get into things after they go off the air, and watch them in binge sessions), so I can’t speak to whether Breaking Bad juice is going around! 🙂

  5. Liz says:

    Cool stories, all. Very cool to see a woman find incredible success in Hollywood while staying true to herself.

    Wish there were three of me–one would devote her life solely to watching tv shows and the other two could do the work/family/everything else balance. After you figure out how to cure migraines, get yourself over to Toronto to accept amb’s proposal, and solve the recording-three-shows-at-once bit, can you please help me with the cloning thing? Don’t want to get too crazy and certainly don’t want to break any laws of nature, but surely there must be a way to do this.

    Agreed that binge watching is the way to go. Remember when we had to sit through commercials?

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