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Orphan Black season one

June 7, 2013

ob2013 is proving to be a good year for new genre shows for me. I have previously reviewed the first season of the excellent series Continuum that aired in the US this year and am very much looking forward to the second season which starts within days of this posting. Hot on the heels of this excellent series comes an awesome new SF series from Canada called Orphan Black.

This series focuses on a young woman named Sarah Manning who has just arrived in New York City from Britain in order to re-establish a connection with her daughter who is currently under the care of Sarah’s foster mother. These plans get derailed fairly rapidly when Sarah comes face to face with a woman who looks like her identical twin sister. Before words can be exchanged, this woman steps in front of an oncoming train after leaving her purse on the platform. Sarah takes the purse and learns that her twin’s name is Beth and that she was a police detective. Using Beth’s identity, she then begins her journey to discover who Beth was and why she looked like her.

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that Sarah is a clone as most of the shows promotional material presents this up front. The ten episode series follows Sarah’s discovery process as she runs into some of the other clones who, in one of the cooler aspects of the series, have already formed a functional investigating group. While this has the benefit of allowing Sarah to get up to speed fairly quickly, it also has a hidden downside in that she has to extend trust to people, some of whom may not deserve it, given that she knows next to nothing about their respective backgrounds. Initially, the show looks like it may be using the police procedural drama to carry a science fiction story line in the same way that Continuum and Person of Interest do but, this gets abandoned over the course of the series leaving it more of a character driven genre suspense series. The character driven aspect is quite refreshing as Orphan Black really focuses pretty hard at the lives of the clones and the toll the effect of learning about their situation has taken on those lives and the lives of the people around them. They each develop their own unique set of coping mechanisms along the way.

It took me about half way through the first season to fully realize how much work the lead actress Tatiana Maslany is putting into this show. She is in close to every scene as one clone or another and, even when she isn’t, there are more than enough other scenes where she pulls double duty to make up for it. In the back of my mind I knew conceptually that it had to be the case that all of the clones are played by the same actress but, Tatiana does such an exceptional job playing the different characters that I fell for the mental illusion that they were all different people when, in fact, they were not. So, you can add my voice to the chorus of people that say Ms. Maslany’s acting skills easily deserve whatever the Canadian equivalent of an Emmy award is. Another actor I want to mention is Matt Frewer who is a regular character in the series. It was nice to see him back in a genre show as I still remember him from his early work as Max Headroom.

I also want to mention the series finale without giving away any specific details as I was very impressed with the episode and feel it speaks to the strength of the writing in the series. It had a double dose of irony that provided a very well crafted close to the season. One incident focused on a character leaving the series that, while it had a darkly humorous edge to it, is clearly going to have a profound personal impact on one of the clones in the upcoming season. The other is a cliffhanger that in addition to giving us a hint as to what is likely to be one of the major story arcs for the second series also very neatly circles back to the beginning of the series. I was very impressed with how tight the writing was on this particular episode. Like Continuum, I would highly recommend Orphan Black to fans of science fiction television.

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7 Comments
  1. Oh so cool, I was interested but weary of this show but now I really want to check it out.

    • I totally agree about your weary comment Kimberley. The advertising for this show really didn’t do it any favors. You should definitely check it out. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  2. Aargh! We switched from DirecTV back to cable. Good news, our bill just got slashed in half. Bad news, my wife and I didn’t have time to watch this series. Worth buying on iTunes or should we wait for Netflix?

    • If you have a way to permanently store it from iTunes, then yes I would buy it. I’m pretty certain that I’ll be getting it on DVD when it becomes available.

  3. Phatandy permalink

    Orphan Black is not a British show nor are Tatiana Maslany or foster brother character Felix either(fake accents). OB and most of the cast, it’s co-creators, director and writers are Canadian. It is filmed in Toronto and is a shared production of Space Channel of Canada and BBC America and Temple Street Productions, the later by the way is actually in charge of creating this show.

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