Orphan Black (2013) Episode 1


What happens when the American arm of a UK-based media giant makes a show in Canada for an American cable station? A show like Orphan Black is born! Until recently, I wouldn’t have considered myself a fan of an “urban thriller” show such as this. I can’t say I enjoyed Dollhouse, Alias, or even Nikita. There have been, however, a few shows that technically fit this mold that I’ve loved this year. Utopia, Arrow, and now Orphan Black. It seems that these guys can layer a science fiction or comic sheen onto just about any genre and I’ll dig it – case and point is my disdain for procedural police dramas and my love for Life on Mars.

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BBC America has been on a roll lately with all of these well-received original shows. I’m a late comer to the show like so many, and only heard about it through the huge avalanche of critical praise this summer. When people like Patton Oswalt go out on an Emmy nomination campaign for a show, I knew something was up. Here he is giving props to the star of the show, Tatiana Maslany, via twitter:

She absolutely deserves an Emmy […] There’s just no argument to it. Not a nomination. AN EMMY. An. EMMY.”

I was intrigued after watching a trailer and a few interviews via The Nerdist a few months ago, but the show somehow slipped my mind, but this endorsement settled it; I had to watch this. Not having cable has made it to where I am painfully slow on discovering new shows sometimes. That is until today.

Orphan Black follows the misadventures of a young woman named Sarah. After witnessing a woman’s suicide in a subway terminal, Sarah assumes the strangers identity. You see, Sarah isn’t really a great person. She is an orphan, and has slipped into a life of drugs and other vices in a country that isn’t her native land. This would be hard unless the person in question was identical to Sarah in every way, and she is….well, was.  Expecting to solve all her problems by cleaning out the dead woman’s savings, Sarah is instead thrust into a mysterious conspiracy of epic proportions. As Sarah searches for answers, things just get crazier and crazier.

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It’s really no mystery that the conspiracy involved with this show is the fact that Sarah is just one of many clones, as they hyped the fact up in all the press stuff I’ve read. Tatiana Maslany does a fine job pulling off what is essentially many multiple roles per episode. Sarah Manning is the principle character, a street-wise British ex-patriate living in the vague Canadian-ish-American city that the show takes place in. We all know it’s actually Canada, but the production team has left it really vague for some reason. When she adopts the dead woman’s life, she has to change completely in accent, mannerisms, and temperament. It seems that the woman, Elizabeth Childs, was a troubled native police detective, and quite different than Sarah. We also see Katja Obinger, a German clone, although she isn’t around very long. One can see why Tatiana Maslany is getting all of these acting nods, as she is sometimes acting against herself in many scenes and is able to pull of very different characters with none of them blending together. This is only episode one, I can only imagine what is coming up.

Another nod goes to a young actor named Jordan Gavaris as Felix Dawkins, Sarah’s flamboyant foster brother and sole confidant. For an actor that has only been in something like three shows, Gavaris seems like a pro here. and to be honest I was amazed to find out that he was not actually British and was Canadian. He pulls off a camp “posh” accent fairly well here. Felix also acts as the comic relief of the show in many scenes. One in particular that made me chuckle was when he commandeered a phone at a local bar, only to get reprimanded by the bartender. To get his way, he shouts something like “do not snap towels at me Bobbi, I had a very traumatic childhood.” There is worry that Felix will become nothing more than a sassy one-liner machine, but so far his character is well-done.

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I will say that I was somewhat surprised at how raunchy the show was considering it not being part of HBO or something. there is quite a bit of brief nudity in a few scenes, but nothing like a show such as True Blood, this isn’t a “Skinimax” porn, and it wasn’t gratuitous at all.

So far, so good for Orphan Black. While this pilot episode only scratches the surface with the plot, what is here is plenty to keep the viewer guessing and build suspense. I’m glad I started watching this and recommend it to everyone that didn’t give it a chance at first. Yes, the hype is justified and BBC America has hit another one out of the park.

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How To Watch British Television in America

An easy guide on how to watch all this stuff I keep yammering on about!

We live in a very interesting time for entertainment consumers. Gone are the days of only having a small selection of television channels to watch on any given day. First, the home video and DVD markets opened the floodgates on older and far more obscure programming to watch. This was followed by internet streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and those dreaded Peer to Peer and bittorrent clients. No longer is the consumer shackled to the whims of a TV executive or commercial entity. For the most part, barriers are falling and e can watch what we want, when we want,how we want.

This blog covers one particular type of media – UK science fiction and other “genre” programming. A lot of the stuff I cover is readily available to Americans on pay services or home video releases, but what I want to do is give a general overview on how I watch all this stuff. Don’t fret if you are a reader that doesn’t live in the U.S., most of these tips can help you out as well no matter what country you live in.

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Look for one of these on the back of your DVDs

Region Codes, and how to bypass them.

As many science fiction fans may have noticed – shows licensed from UK companies such as Doctor Who cost about twice or even three times more than most U.S. television shows. This can be particularly bad if you are on a budget and don’t want to break the bank. Yes, a few of these shows are available on Netflix (e.g.Red Dwarf, Doctor Who, and Day of the Triffids) but some shows that I plan on eventually getting such as the Tripods or Blakes 7 will probably never come out here or be released on a streaming device. You can obviously download things and burn them, or watch programs on your computer, but if you are like me, this choice is never as good as watching a good quality image whilst sitting in a comfy chair. This is where region-free DVD players some in.

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this is what happens when you try to play a disk on the wrong player (Photo credit: williac)

So what are DVD regions? They are an archaic policy adopted by home media companies decades ago to promote policies such as price discrimination, disallow reverse importation, and control costs with staggered release dates. For example, in America a company can get away with selling a seven year old season of Doctor Who for around $79.99 due to the niche market and limited exposure. In the United Kingdom this would be ludicrous, and as such, it is much cheaper. Anyone in their right mind, when confronted with such a price difference, would just order these DVDs from England. This is what they are trying to stop. America is called “region 1” and the UK is “region 2” so neither can easily watch each others home media very easily. If you pop a foreign DVD into your personal DVD player it will have an error message, this is the same with personal computers,game systems and just about everything else that would make you happy. Here are maps of the DVD regions and Blu-Ray regions. 

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DVD Regions
Blu-Ray Regions
Blu-Ray Regions

My recommendation to anyone that may decide to watch some harder to find UK shows is to do one of the following two things:

Region-Free DVD Players
Region-Free DVD Players are big business in some countries(Photo credit: Hikosaemon)

1) Cheap Method: It’s a little known secret that most, if not all cheap Chinese-made DVD players are actually region-free, and have their region locks installed via software within the factory. In the past I used to get DVD players from Digix or Coby for around 20-30 dollars. These players were pretty crappy for the most part, and honestly aren’t worth it unless you can’t swing what I will post on option 2. I remember having this one particular model of Coby DVD player that would work fine until around the six month mark, *boom* – broken. The trick to using one of these is to do a little research. Websites like DVD Help have listings of DVD players and whether they can be region hacked or not. Most of these are simple to hack, as a numerical code on the DVD remote usually does the trick.

2) Best Method – depending on how much one wants to spend, visiting a site like Region Free DVD is the best option. Tired of dealing with cheap players, I plunked down 100 dollars for a Toshiba regionless HDMI up-scaling DVD player, and will never look back. Not only is the picture better in just about every way, but the player itself is tailored for wide screen TVs and widescreen media, like most UK TV.

The reason I recommend getting one of these players is pretty self explanatory with the numbers. Here are the prices and availability of one show Life on Mars, and its spin-off/sequel Ashes to Ashes.

Amazon.com

LOM Season 1: $49.99-$79.00

LOM Season 2: $49.99-$79.00

A2A S1: Not released

A2A S2: Not released

A2A S3:Nor released

Total $100.00+ for 2 seasons, Ashes to Ashes not even announced for release as far as I know.

Ashes to Ashes (TV series)
Ashes to Ashes (TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amazon.co.uk

(as of today’s exchange rates)

LOM Season 1: $15.00

LOM Season 2: $15.00

A2A S1: $15.00

A2A S2: $15.00

A2A S3: $20.00

Total $80.00 for 5 seasons, all episodes complete, there are also combo packs of all three Ashes to Ashes seasons, and both Life on Mars seasons that could bring the price down even more. 

And now you can see why I do this, and shipping isn’t bad either – maybe 8 bucks for most DVD orders to reach the U.S. If you don’t care to get a new DVD or Blu-Ray player, there are also computer programs that disable region codes on PCs. Technically you can watch foreign DVDs on there as it does allow for a VERY limited amount of region swaps, but be careful. If you keep switching regions, it will eventually permanently lock into one. Most computers can be toggled around six times before this happens. 

But lets say you don’t care about actually owning these shows, is there a way to watch these on TV or on your computer? Why yes there is!

Cable TV Alternatives

Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

There are three major streaming services in the U.S.: Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. These three companies have become my lifeline lately, as I decided to “cut the cord” a few years back, and drop my cable subscription. Needless extra channels and ever-increasing prices were getting to be a headache,and I’m glad there was an alternative to cable and satellite. While there is a bit of cross-over, all three companies have their strengths and weaknesses in price and availability. In a general sense, Netflix is better for movies, Hulu is better for TV, and Amazon Prime is like a weird cousin of both – having VERY popular TV shows and movies, but less of them.

Hulu
Hulu (Photo credit: Evan Hamilton)

Netflix gets big props for having licenses for some of the bigger shows like Doctor Who and Top gear. With the latter, they even have all of the 20+ seasons (minus the first) all ready to marathon. Hulu has been bringing quite a few UK comedies and dramas over as “Hulu Exclusives” such as Rev. and Whites as of late. Other shows like Moone Boy, Misfits, and Pramface have been getting quite a bit of traction on there as well, bringing what could be considered “more obscure” shows to a new audience. Amazon Prime is the oddity here. They have some huge shows like Downton Abbey and things like Sarah Jane Adventures as well as next day purchase options for the NEW episodes of big shows. This year, I spent 2 bucks a pop for Doctor Who series 7, something that I could have pirated, but chose not to.

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Considering that my monthly cable bill used to run some $120, these companies are awesome. Hulu is $7.99 per month, as is Netflix, and Amazon Prime is $79.99 yearly. There are other perks for the Amazon subscription including free two day shipping on everything, so if you are a heavy Amazon user, I don’t know why you wouldn’t use this service.

Public Broadcasting Service
Public Broadcasting Service (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kickin’ it Oldschool

For our penultimate section I decided to bring up regular old TV, whether it be network, cable, or satellite. This is not my preferred method of watching UK TV, but it will definitely do in a pinch. For years, the Public Broadcasting Service has helped many an Anglophile get their fix. I grew up watching comedies like Keeping Up Appearances, Mr. Bean, and Monty Python just to name a few. My local PBS station still runs a Saturday block of UK TV all sponsored by some very passionate fans. Some of the videotapes they use look pretty bad now, but if you haven’t seen the show digitally remastered you will be none-the-wiser. Some PBS stations even run shows like Doctor Who and Red Dwarf, so keep an eye on the schedule. Outside of that, cable providers have a decent amount of UK TV, especially if you have BBC America on your cable plan. The problem with “regular TV” is that most US TV execs love to remake everything that is popular rather than airing the original.

bittorrent

“By other means”

I won’t lie, I sometimes obtain TV episodes from the internet. Whether it be a bit-torrent client or YouTube,if one is internet savvy enough pretty much anything is obtainable online. For older shows that are out of print on DVD and impossible to legally obtain over here, I have ventured onto torrent sites quite often. be warned, this is NOT legal at worst and kind of a  gray area at best, and could land you in trouble. I would never download a Hollywood film or adult film using these sorts of programs, as shady litigation “honey pots” are out there to tempt people into breaking the law. Another option is using proxy servers or streaming sites to access UK-only TV providers. I haven’t really dabbled with this, and have no real opinion on the use of these programs or the results.

So there you go fellow anglophiles, I hope this helps you navigate the wondrous world of British television much easier, and gives you some new stuff to watch. If you have any questions on show availability, or tips on how to watch something, please feel free to ask, as I may be able to help.