Thursday, July 25, 2013

Orphan Black

In my ever-continuing efforts to provide only the most important information to you, my dear readers, here's an excellent TV show that is totally worth your time. It's called Orphan Black. Yeah, I know, I'd never heard of it either. As far as I was aware, it just showed up out of nowhere, but it turned out to be pretty great. Just 10 episodes from BBC America, the first season is now available for purchase, you should check it out.

I'm gonna talk about it for a bit, so be warned, folks, there will be a few spoilers below...


The star of the show is named Tatiana Maslany. Nope, I've never heard of her either, but man, she's beyond great and I'm not the only one who thinks so either. Despite the fact this show seems to be totally unknown still, she got an Emmy nomination this year for her work. And with good reason too, she not only plays a half dozen plus different characters, she plays them all distinctively. She's so good, there are times during her performance where you're unsure whether she's a single person or not. That alone would be laudable, but even more impressively, she often has to play one character as impersonating another character, and despite this you never lose track of who's who. It's pretty cool. Here's the main cast:

Pictured (left to right): Sarah, Helena, Alison, Cosima, and Beth (actually Sarah)

I know. I know. It's weird already, right? Don't worry, it will all makes sense. Plus, part of the fun is watching it all unfold. So what's it about? Well, Orphan Black is the story of Sarah Manning, a Queen of Bad Decisions type of girl. In the first episode, Sarah has just blown back into town. She's at the train station, has a pound of cocaine she's stolen off her ex-boyfriend, and a plan to sell it and use the money to get her daughter--who's been staying with Sarah's foster mother, Mrs. Sadler--and start a new life. But while Sarah is on the phone making plans with her super gay, super funny foster brother Felix, she happens to look over and see a crying woman, a woman who looks just like her. Exactly like her. Naturally, this gets Sarah's attention. The woman is named Beth.


Sarah then watches Beth throw herself in front of a train.

Shocking. 

In the ensuing chaos, and in true opportunistic grifter fashion, Sarah impulsively decides to snatch Beth's purse. The lookalike thing is odd, admittedly, but Sarah doesn't care, she has a mission and she needs money in order to accomplish it. She figures Beth looks posh enough to have some cash and quickly discovers that she actually had quite a large amount stashed in a secret bank account. With Felix's help, Sarah plans to assume Beth's identity, drain the account, and split before anyone is even aware that Beth is dead. However, Sarah soon runs into a few problems...

1. Turns out, Beth was a cop and she was on suspension for shooting an unarmed civilian, possibly because she was dirty, which might explain the big stash of cash, and her partner Detective Arthur "Art" Bell is all over Sarah because of it. Worst of all, he actually thinks Sarah is Beth.


2. Beth and her live-in boyfriend Paul were apparently having some serious issues, but Sarah finds him extremely attractive and has a ton of sex with him. As a result, Paul--who has some secrets of his own--is all confused and a little bit suspicious, so Sarah kicks him out again, which makes him even more confused and suspicious.


3. Beth had a pink cell phone in her purse, an extra one besides her own personal cell phone, and it keeps getting calls from mysterious phone numbers.


4. A woman turns up looking for Beth and shockingly, she is also Sarah's twin. Her name is Katja, and while Sarah is trying to get some answers out of her, someone shoots poor Katja in the head. Sarah has to hide the body.


Meanwhile, Art is getting suspicious of Sarah since she has literally no idea at all how to be a cop while pretending to be Beth. He's extra worried because Beth's suspension could have ramifications on his own career, so he intercepts Sarah and ends up taking Beth's money hostage until Sarah is able to clear Beth's name and get re-instated as a police officer. Which means, unbeknownst to Art, that Sarah is stuck playing Beth. Then Vic, Sarah's idiot drug dealer ex-boyfriend suddenly shows up in town looking for vengeance and his cocaine. To shake Vic, Sarah and Felix impulsively decide to fake her death using Beth's body, but her foster mother Mrs. Sadler accidentally hears about it, which is a problem for Sarah, because she is trying to get back into her daughter's life. Then the cops find Katja's body, and her fingerprints turn up as a match to Sarah's, who has a record, but Sarah's body is already in the morgue and from the pictures, the body looks just like Beth. Things get even more complicated when Sarah discovers that the calls on the pink cell phone are coming from a woman named Alison. Alison is a suburban soccer mom and she looks just like Sarah too. Exactly like her. Through Alison, Sarah meets a young woman named Cosima, who is a graduate student studying evolutionary development and another exact duplicate, and that's when the big reveal finally comes: They're all clones, exact genetic duplicates, and someone is trying to kill them.

But who?

Helena. It was Helena. She will cut you.

Helena is yet another duplicate. She's Russian, a religious fanatic, and crazy as a loon. Believing herself to be the original girl and that her clone sisters are soulless abominations, she is on a holy mission to kill them all. She has killed a few already, but at the same time, she is drawn to Sarah and wants her approval... She also wants to stab her. She's nuts. All of this leads to the discovery that Helena is just an abused tool of an underground religious group, which is vying for control of the girls against another secret organization and that some of the people in their lives are involved and keeping tabs on them. The girls soon find themselves alone and tumbling down a rabbit hole of old secrets, religious mania and bleeding edge science. And that's only the beginning.

There's a ton of stuff I left out, too... I know, it sounds exhausting...

Girls night!

But I promise, it's much easier to understand than I made it sound.

And that's the best part, not only is Tatiana's performance really impressive, the whole show is. It's well-written. It moves. Every episode reveals another surprising piece to a bigger puzzle, but it never feels relentless or confusing or basically, anything like the show Lost ever did. It is at turns exciting and horrifying and dark and violent, but with some fantastic character moments. It's really funny too. Between Felix and Alison, there are some real laugh out loud moments, especially whenever the two are together once Alison's life starts to unravel from all the clone-craziness. Poor Alison, all she ever really wanted was a nice suburban life... so funny. Anyway, I really appreciate the obvious skill used to make every character three-dimensional. No one is quite who they seem at first meet, there are no 2-D archetypes, and there isn't a slouch in the cast either. As incredible as it may sound, there isn't a single character I wish the writers would kill off. That's a pretty big deal. Also, as a nice bonus, Matt Frewer appears as the mysterious and dangerous Dr. Aldous Leekie.

For a show that wasn't on my radar, created by people I've pretty much never heard of (turns out one of the creators was the Director of Ginger Snaps, which is awesome and highly recommended), and is filled with a cast of unknowns--for the most part--Orphan Black was shockingly good, well, shocked the hell out of me, at least. It puts crap sci-fi TV like the Walking Dead or Falling Skies or Revolution or Defiance to shame. Faint praise, sure, but it's still a great sow.

I can't wait for the second season.


You should be watching this show,
Jon

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