TV – Orphan Black

31 Dec

Orphan Black, a series which ran on BBC America last spring, begins with Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) getting off a train in an unnamed city.  On the train platform, she finds herself face-to-face with herself, or, rather, a woman who looks startling like Sarah.  No words are exchanged between the two as the woman calmly kicks off her shoes, neatly folds her jacket, and steps into the path of an oncoming train.  Being a bit of a grifter, Sarah snatches the dead woman’s purse and discovers she’s Elizabeth Childs, a local resident with a tony address.  Sarah heads to Beth’s apartment, determined to take whatever she can and set off for a new life with her daughter (who’s being kept by a foster mother) and Sarah’s foster brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris).

To say much more would be to rob a prospective viewer of a truly astounding viewing experience.  Suffice it to say that Sarah and Beth are not the only ones wearing the same face, and each doppelganger comes with her own issues, ideas, and dangers, as Sarah attempts to uncover who she really is and why there are so many of her.  It’s a tightwire act where Sarah never knows who to trust, even if they wear her face.  Especially if they wear her face.

If Orphan Black sounds like too much science fiction, I’m here to tell you it really isn’t.  Oh, it has its discussions of genomes and the “c” word (“clone”, which one of the doppelgangers tells Sarah “We try to avoid that word around here.”)  And in lesser hands, the whole portraying-multiple-characters schtick is hokey at best; one remembers Sarah Michelle Gellar (who I love in Buffy  and The Crazy Ones) gamely vamping her way through Ringer a couple of seasons ago.  But Tatiana Maslany is amazing as Sarah/Beth and all of her twins, and well-deserving of her Golden Globe nomination as Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama.  So fully does she embody each of the characters, that without even seeing each character’s distinctive look, it’s possible to identify them by voice and speaking pattern alone.

The supporting cast is up to the challenge as well, with Matt Frewer especially good in a (for him) somewhat restrained performance as a scientist who shows up about midway through the season.  And watching the season as I did, in (more or less) one sitting heightens the building tension.  And while the season ends in a cliffhanger, enough of the plotlines introduced throughout are wrapped up, and a new villain revealed.

Orphan Black  will return to BBC America for its second season on April 19, 2014.  They’ll probably rerun the first season in its entirety before that, so you may want to set your DVR now, so you don’t forget.  The series is also available for purchase on Amazon Instant Video and iTunes, if you don’t want to wait.

I’d suggest you don’t.  I give Orphan Black Image.

 

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