[Blogged by Jeremy Grayson]
Hello, everyone. Jeremy here. I’ve got a special surprise to share with you all this week.
As many of you may recall, Mike, our humble overlord, wrote an article a few months ago about the first season of Orphan Black, the sci-fi cult hit on BBC America. In his article, Mike praised the show for its innovation and intrigue, not to mention the brilliant talents of its leading lady. And darned if he didn’t get a few more folks in the Critically Touched community hooked on the show.
Well, as the saying goes, “One Orphan Black article is never enough!” (That is how it goes, right?)
See, I don’t have a review prepped for this week, so I thought I’d share this with you instead. The article you’re about to read was originally written by me back in early May as a feature for my school paper. It’s similar in its basic context to Mike’s article (although written for a general audience, rather than for this community), delivering a pitch for Orphan Black – with no spoilers, outside of a brief and basic synopsis – just a few weeks after its Season Two premiere. (It’s admittedly dated in a few respects, as I ultimately didn’t find the second season to be nearly as engaging as the first.)
Anyway, I thought you folks would be interested in checking out what I wrote. Perhaps it will help you gain a new appreciation for Orphan Black… or, if you haven’t seen the series yet, it may get you interested in trying it out. At the very least, it will give you a clear-cut way to compare and contrast the different writing and analytical styles between Mike and me, and there can’t possibly be a better way to spend your afternoon than doing that.
Disclaimer: Keep in mind that, as I said, this was written for a general audience. As such, it’s not meant to be as deep or insightful as the stuff I write for this site. So instead of being “mind-blowingly awesome”, this article will just have to settle for “jaw-droppingly brilliant”.
[Everybody Loves A Clone]
Science fiction hasn’t offered us much in the last few years, has it? It was once considered the bold new face of television, at a time when space travel was young and the idea of life on other planets was not only possible, but inviting. But in the last decade or so, television shows about the more far-fetched aspects of science have become pretty sparse. The “Star Trek” franchise – perhaps the mother of all sci-fi TV – ended its lengthy television run in 2005, and even the rebooted film series, for all its financial success, hasn’t generated enough publicity to start the shows up again. The “Stargate” franchise had a strong lifespan (1997-2011), but barely generated any publicity during that time. Occasionally, the SyFy Channel (man, do I hate that title) will turn up a new series, but few of their recent efforts have lasted more than one or two seasons.
The 21st century has given us a few successful science fiction programs – the rebooted “Battlestar Galactica” was widely acclaimed for its allegorical themes and abilities to capture America’s fears in a post-9/11 world. But outside of JJ Abrams (the co-creator of “Lost” and “Fringe” who is currently mainlining both the new “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” films), few people have had genuine success with this genre in recent years.
Still, there is one delightful exception to this rule: “Orphan Black”, a drama which premiered last year on BBC America and recently began its second season, has quickly become one of the most exciting programs not only in the sci-fi world, but on television in general. Combining great characters, riveting plots, and a nonstop level of thrills and suspense, the show has delivered marvelously entertaining television from the get-go.
The show follows a young woman named Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) who begins to discover, much to her shock, that she is part of a secret cloning project. She finds other women who look exactly like her, and with their help, sets off to figure out exactly who or what is behind the mysterious project.
I won’t give much away, but let’s just say that the story in no way stops there – or even stands still for very long. What makes “Orphan Black” so engaging is its pace – whereas most shows would be content to spend several episodes setting up their characters and plotlines, “Orphan Black” dives right in to the thrills, deftly combining intricate storytelling with a strong penchant for entertainment. The series piles twist atop twist atop increasingly shocking twist, getting better and better as the first season goes along.
As complex as it is entertaining, “Orphan Black” imbues each of its characters with weight and personality. It also examines multifaceted themes about cloning and identity, making us ponder exactly what it means to be an “individual”. Can a clone be considered a real person, or merely an extension of one?
The writing is sharp, fresh, and often funny, and the directors certainly know how to work their shots – suspenseful scenes are filmed in dark lighting, with often compressive shots, to heighten the level of danger. The music is aggressive and energetic. The supporting actors are mostly strong, with Jordan Gavaris as Sarah’s comic-relief brother Felix as a standout. I’ll just quickly mention my disappointment with Dylan Bruce, the actor who plays the character of Paul, who has good looks but a weak acting ability. He’s the show’s only real weakness.
But by far the best performer on the show is Tatiana Maslany herself. The star of the series in every way, she plays a total of five characters in the first season and gives each of them their own set of human characteristics. So dramatic is Maslany’s range, in fact, that during scenes in which two or more of her characters interact with each other (through digital computer work, naturally) you never even realize that they’re played by the same person.
Maslany’s performance is the icing on “Orphan Black”‘s deliciously rich cake. And it’s a cake which keeps getting tastier. Season Two, which premiered on April 19, has successfully maintained the energy from the first season, deepening the suspense and mystery which makes this show one of the finest things currently on television. “Orphan Black” succeeds in pretty much every department, and whether or not you’re a fan of science-fiction, you owe it to yourself to give the series a shot.
Jeremy Grayson is a freelance writer and reviewer for Critically Touched. And quite a handsome one, at that.