You might think I’m a little late to the party, but I wanted to finish watching the first season of BBC’s Orphan Black before getting into it in depth. However, from the first two minutes of the pilot episode of the freshman show, I was completely ADDICTED. This is a show that grabs you immediately and does not let go. It is concept high and, more importantly, a proverbial clinic for outstanding acting performances. Orphan Black was recommended to me by a friend of mine a few months back. His biggest selling point to me was, “Its on the BBC.” Despite the recent stellar work on cable, most American shows are cop drama, medical drama, pop culture comedies, reality shows, lather, rinse, repeat. The BBC, however, seem to be the place I end up heading to for very original, high concept, well acted shows. Shows that don’t pull punches. Shows that take major chances. Shows that produce unsung, cult status, acting performances. (See: Misfits, Luther, Sherlock, The Thick Of It) There is a reason Hollywood producers try and bring these shows stateside, but they mostly fail. (See: Coupling, InBetweeners, Life On Mars) They fail because they missed the ‘take risks’ part their predecessors had done. The BBC has bigger testicles to stick with high concept shows that strive to be different, where NBC, CBS, ABC, and FOX always go the way the wind blows. This is a conversation for another day. The BBC’s Orphan Black stands tall as a great new show that is on the cusp of being the next big thing.
THOUGH O.B.’s REVEAL HAPPENS PRETTY EARLY ON…HUGE SPOILER ALERT!
Orphan Black is a Sci-Fi, Mystery, Drama, Comedy, Action, Thriller that revolves around a young misfit woman named Sarah realizing that she is one of several…..CLONES. Dun! Dun! Duuuuun!!! Sarah, through her own desperate attempt to reboot her life, steps into the shoes of a women she just figured looked like here. However, she quickly realizes she has actually stepped into a world of body enhancement cults, anti-technology cults, murder cover-ups, assassin/cop cat and mouse games, and suburban american drama. In essence, Orphan Black is one part X-Files, one part The Shield, and one part Desperate Housewives. Because these clones have been living completely different and separate lives from each other, it allows for some very interesting role reversals and identity switch circumstances. Sarah is the main character of course, but the show allows you to see situations through the eyes and perspective of her clone counterparts. Some friendly, some not so friendly and some psychotic enemies. Except for maybe the episode ‘Rookies’ from the animated Star Wars series, the concepts and fundamental analysis of cloning have rarely been touched on. Usually with crappy and apoplectic results. But Orphan Black is the first time I’ve seen a show or film really get to the meat of the matter. Raising some great scientific and moral questions about it and what actual identity means. And though the subtlety of the special effects and the way they pull it off transform this show into a must watch, it is the performances that makes Orphan Black truly stand apart.
I first saw Tatiana Maslany briefly in the Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams movie The Vow. Don’t ask. Conjointly, she was a relative unknown to me. So, when I saw her as the star of this series, I was a little perplexed. Her resumé is pretty light. Should she be getting this big a vehicle? That question, again, was answered in the first ten minutes of the pilot. The Canadian born actress easily proves that she can tackle this dream role. I call it a dream role because any ambitious actor or actress would jump at the chance to play a part that allows you to play almost 6 different characters who are completely different from one another and also have their own varying degree of personality complexities. Sarah, the British con artist. Helena, the psychotic Ukranian assassin. Katja, the German socialite. Beth, the emotionally torn dirty cop. Alison, the cold soccer mom. Cosima, the grungy brainiac. I could go on. Maslany nails all of these characters so perfectly, you find yourself forgetting these parts are played by the same person. The real treat is when Maslany has to play one of the characters trying to pretend to be another one of the characters. The idiosyncrasies of each clone are so specific that you buy that one clone isn’t a perfect fit for the other. Maslany’s Emmy nomination is the biggest forgone conclusion since Daniel Day Lewis’s Lincoln. The other great performance opportunity the show grants you is watching other characters react to different versions of Maslany. None more awesome than Sarah’s orphanage brother Felix, played by the Jordan Gavaris. He, on paper, is the comic relief of the show. But his character has a depth and complexity all its own. His love and loyalty for his sister Sarah always shows, and his annoyance for her suburban housewife counterpart Alison shows as well. He also gets the best lines of the series. Unlike some of the other flamboyant characters on tv, however, Felix isn’t a cardboard cutout of clichés. He is no Sheldon from the unctuous Big Bang Theory. He feels real.
There are so many things about Orphan Black that I would love to get into. However, I don’t want to spoil the surprises any more than I have already. And trust me, there are plenty more. Each episode is like a hit of LSD. A brand new crazy experience every single time. And just as ADDICTIVE….um…or so I’ve heard. Seriously. I don’t do LSD. Really! Okay maybe there was that one time in Prague, but it was too dark in that nightclub to tell what Olga gave me. Though I did wake up naked in a TJ Max so….ahem…I digress. Tuck your genetically added tail between your legs…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.