Everyone has had that co-worker in the past that basically promotes themselves to supervisory level because they are a huge loudmouth. I’m so glad there isn’t much of that at my current job, VERY glad.
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.
Anyone stopping by this site might wonder why exactly I don’t just talk about ALL science fiction, I mean it’s not like I don’t watch stuff from my home country at all. Keeping in mind that I am a Star Trek fan, I’ve dabbled in Star Wars, and I love some old Buck Rogers, that doesn’t excuse the fact that I am shamelessly addicted to stuff from the “other side of the pond”. The question remains, is there really a difference to the two different styles, can one distinctly draw a line between the two sides and separate them? For me, the answer is yes.
I think the main difference can all be chalked up to the argument of mood vs spectacle with the British productions geared heavily towards atmosphere, mood, and concepts and most American helmed productions relying mostly on spectacle, visuals, and special effects. As one can imagine, most of this can be chalked up to budgetary constraints, as anyone with access to millions of dollars in production budget would love to make something as grand as Star Wars, but if you are given far less you may have to settle for Blakes 7. What this usually means is that the actual scripting for these British programs has to be scripted to concentrate on tension, horror, and relationships versus escapist imagery. This forces the writers to go for ballsy content that will grab viewers and hold them; while there are a few American scifi shows that have taken this route, many “wuss out”.
A prime example of this neutering of concept in favor of spectacle can be seen in the American version of Life on Mars, a remake of a UK show from a few years ago. At first glance, the shows seem similar, but anyone will immediately notice a stark difference between the two. First and foremost, we have the production values in place hammering away any subtlety in concept. Instead of filming in antiquated areas, and keeping things dingy, the American show goes for a smooth veneer of CGI effects on things to add in the twin towers and other relics to constantly remind us of another time.
I was constantly baffled by the use of yellow lense filters to instill a weird vibe on the show, it made it look like portions were filmed on Venus or something. I know folks had a hideous concept of color back then, but wouldn’t it be better to actually use sets with yellow, green and brown things in them instead of just tossing a filter over everything? It’s not like the sky was yellow back then, though I was born in the 1980’s so maybe I missed that memo. This basically ruined the show for me right from the beginning because it makes it hazy and hard to see anything in any of the shots. Instead of thinking “man, Gene Hunt’s office has terrible décor”, I thought to myself “why is he at work at sundown in a foggy yellow-lit room?” While both shows do a fairly decent job of keeping the early 1970’s fashion and hairstyles in check, the American one looks a bit too “shiny” and somewhat gratuitous. The acting seems more “Hollywood” and fake, and everything looks too clean and sterilized. Even the classic cars seem to all be from car shows, no spec of dirt on any of them. The U.K. Life on Mars excels on “not trying too hard” and succeeds by keeping everything simple. The U.S. version tries far too hard, and as a result fails.
Another huge misstep is the overall casting of the show. In the original, Sam was a normal sized guy, athletic but not too large. This was at odds with Gene Hunt’s large size and physicality. We were to believe that if the two were to ever get in a fight, Hunt would decimate Sam with sheer size and brute strength. Instead we have a Sam that towers over Hunt, a sixty year old Hunt to be exact. I know Harvey Keitel is a well-liked actor, but how am I supposed to believe that he is a hardass, if it looks as if he could break a hip at any moment. Everyone else looks “too pretty” if you get my drift, nobody looks like a real person, and it seems like they cast the show from a modeling agency.
My final real problem is that the show has been whitewashed to be more politically correct. In the original Gene Hunt is not a nice man, he is a corrupt cop that uses his rank to bully everyone around him. Aside from that he is a chauvinist, he is racist, he is homophobic, and he has the manners of a drunken frat guy. While a bit of that stays in, things like racist views are taken largely out, as to not offend people. I can see why this happened, but the whole point of the character is to show an exact opposing view to Sam, someone that Sam tries so hard to avoid being. This way, when Gene starts to soften up, especially in the sequel show Ashes to Ashes, he is that much more endearing.
I could keep going, but I’d rather not nit-pick the entire show to death. Truth is, had I never seen the original version I still would have been annoyed by the show, and probably not finished it.
By doing this comparison, I am by no means belittling American science fiction as the inferior product, but it does show why one can almost never truly adapt a program from there to here, our sensibilities are so different. On the flip-side imagine a show like V (the new one) being created in the U.K., it would be an entirely different show. So yes, there is a difference in the two brands of sci-fi, and I prefer one over the other.
After posting that trailer for Being Human (U.S.) I started thinking about the sad state of the American TV industry when it comes to original ideas. Whenever I turn around, it seems like “new” TV shows are either based on popular U.K. shows that already have a following here, or are reality garbage. I know it may just be my opinion, but I feel that most TV shows that are translated from the U.K. to the U.S. are vastly inferior to their U.K. counterpart. Even a network show such as NBC’s The Office, being written by the same folks behind the original, suffers from being drug out far too much as it enters its seventh season. Shows like Coupling, Red Dwarf, and even the IT Crowd have had failed pilots over here, and it’s no mystery – people that like the original shows will resent the new show from the outset. With one exception in The Office*, I have found that TV execs produce the show in one of two ways, both of which ruin the show:
1) Leave it “as-is” basically making a shot for shot remake – This baffles me completely as a TV fan. I know that some accents from the U.K. can be rough to American ears, but I have no idea why they just can’t air the original show. The problem with these “as-is” remakes is that the humor is not styled for an American sensibility. The jokes always fall flat due to our mannerisms, a general lack of understanding in irony, and other things too numerous to list. Fans of the Comedy Show Spaced have undoubtedly seen the TV pilot scenes that leaked not too long ago, and I feel those scenes speak for themselves
Or even this ghastly version of Red Dwarf:
2) Same plot, but let’s re-write it to make it “better” – I know I just said that leaving it the same hurts the shows chances, but this is usually worse, especially for fans of the old show. Life On Mars (U.S.) is a prime example of this as it was originally supposed to air at least one year before it actually did. ABC screened the show at the San Diego comic-Con to a horrible response, supposedly many of the execs had no idea that it had a fan base in the U.S. and were scared of the reception. A new pilot with different actors was ordered, and it failed due to declining viewership.
So how do we fix this America? Let’s come up with our own damn ideas! I love British science fiction, not crappy remakes of popular British science fiction. There has to be more than one creative guy in U.S. TV, and rather than block any new shows, how about we nurture our own creative minds. With the announced releases of Skins, Shameless, and even X-Factor the pain keeps going….and going….
Here is a list of the crap that gets made sometimes, count how few actually took off.
* season 1 of the Office is basically a re-shoot of the U.K. version, but it went vastly in it’s own direction thereafter, minus a few things…thankfully
As many science fiction fans may have noticed – shows licensed from the BBC 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.
My recommendation to anyone that may decide to watch some harder to find UK shows is to do one of the following two things:
1) Cheap Method: It’s a little known secret that most, if not all cheap Chinese DVD players are actually region-free, and have their region locked 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.
LOM Season 1: $49.99
LOM Season 2: $49.99
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 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
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.
From a press release:
Ashes to Ashes, the critically acclaimed sequel to UK hit Life on Mars, continues by fast forwarding a year to 1982, where leg warmers are cool and fluorescent is the color of choice. While Thatcher is in her element at No. 10 Downing St, bullish Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister, Cranford, Life on Mars) is back, policing the streets in his politically incorrect and loud mouthed style. Ashes to Ashes Season Two premieres Tuesday, May 11, 10:00p.m. ET/PT
After the bait and switch that occurred last year, where season 2 was announced to show up at the same time as the UK then canceled with no word from the company, this is welcome news to me.