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.
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.
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.
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.