Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Orphan is the New Black

Hey everyone! Did y’all dig that new Doctor Who on Saturday night? Did you happen to stick around to see the premier of BBC America’s new series Orphan Black? Want to know what’s the what with this sorta British, sorta American, sorta Canadian series? Of course you do!


Orphan Black, part of BBC America’s “Supernatural Saturday” lineup, tells the story of Sarah, a malcontented English drifter who’s made her way to Toronto at some point and is desperately trying to pull together enough money to get her young daughter back. It’s unclear why her daughter was removed from her to begin with, but given that part of Sarah’s plan is to get her foster brother, Felix, to push several pounds of cocaine for her, we can probably hazard a guess. The story gets underway when Sarah witnesses a sobbing woman, a women who eerily looks exactly like Sarah herself, throw herself into the path of an oncoming train. Sarah, again showing the kind of principled thinking that likely led to getting custody of her daughter removed from her, steals the woman’s purse.

Sarah discovers the woman, Beth, not only has a sweet car and an amazing apartment, but also $75,000 in a bank account that was only recently deposited. Convenient, eh? Sarah, con-woman that she is, devises a plan to steal the money by pretending to be Beth and then pass off Beth's mangled body as her own, allowing her to slip away in The Perfect Plan. All she needs to do is move into Beth's apartment, practice speaking with a American/Canadian accent through watching home movies of her and getting to know who Beth is convincingly enough to fool the account manager at the bank who is apparently friendly with Beth enough to know her personally. Did I mention that it turns out Sarah may have to have convenient distraction sex with Beth's live-in boyfriend as well? Just part of the game, really.

"I wonder if they made any honeymoon videos?"

And that's when the fun begins, because it turns out that Beth wasn't just a suspiciously unhappy woman on a train platform, she was also a cop who is under investigation for apparently accidentally killing a civilian in the line of duty. Before she can get the money, Sarah must now confront a deposition of internal affairs agents at the local police department to account for Beth's actions, which Sarah clearly has no clue about. Sarah has to jump from one frying pan to another all the while avoiding an increasing number of fires just to make her scheme pay off. It isn't long before "Beth" starts getting mysterious text messages from someone who demands that they meet. When this third party finally corners Sarah, the person is, wait for it, another woman who looks exactly like her, only German. And someone's out to kill all three of them. For only wanting to steal $75,000 and an identity, Sarah quickly finds herself at the center of a massive underground web of intrigue.

There's also gay comic relief. Because of course there is.

It shouldn’t take much of a leap (or even a cursory glance at the promos) to realize that this is a story about clones. Possibly about clones doing sexy spy things, although that remains to be seen. The show has a certain Alias-lite kind of vibe going, so that’s possibly not beyond the realm of possibility. And while the premise of clones in the modern day, all of whom presumably have no memory of being clones or of knowing where they came from has a certain appeal to it, the direction the show-runners and the writers choose for it will be the ultimate arbiter of whether or not this becomes your next great television addiction. If it succumbs to the Lost­-ization of modern television, the tendency of a show to regress further and further toward the needlessly complex mean, my patience isn’t going to last long.

Speaking of patience, the pilot episode itself is a mixed bag – slow moving at times with not enough information about any of the characters to really make us pull for them, right up until the last five minutes when OMG you guys shit gets real. Pilots are notoriously hard to do – you have to introduce characters that the audience instantly bonds with (or hates) and present enough of the world to give the audience an understanding of what it’s getting itself into. The real strength of the show after one episode is Tatiana Maslany, the actress playing Sarah (and Beth, the dead cop, and the strange third German lookalike). Maslany plays multiple characters, multiple accents and multiple bodies throughout the episode and does it convincingly. It’s a lot of fun to watch the same actress playing essentially alternate realities of herself, a lot like how Dollhouse could have been if that show had started with a more talented lead actress.

"You're drunk, Eliza. Sleep it off and stop calling me here."

What’s intriguing about the story is a plot that, if fantastic, we can understand and get behind (There are clones. Someone presumably made them. The clones seems to be in trouble. Wackiness ensues.) and a look and feel that, if not utterly original, at least calls to mind some comfortable old friends. Several of the scenes look like they could have been included as outtakes from Blade Runner, another sci-fi epic about people who are, if not clones, something not too far removed from the concept and have no idea whether or not they are “real.” It’s caught me for at least another episode or two. Here’s hoping for more.

Orphan Black airs Saturday nights on BBC America.  


Arsenic Pie said...

I think I will check it out. It's on demand and I was thinking about watching it anyway. The commercials kind of reminded me of that Kazuo Ishiguro book/movie Never Let me Go thing about clones. I started the movie, but it was uber depressing and so I shut it off. Maybe I can get into this.

Clovis said...

I can actually see the connection to Never Let Me Go, now that you mention it. Obviously the plots are nothing similar (or ARE they?), but there is some relationship in the content. I loved Never Let Me Go, but so far this is not coming close to the heady issues that Never Let Me Go raised as both a book and movie.

Like I said, I'm cautiously optimistic. The first episode almost lost me for pacing right up until the end when two things happen right away that made me go, "OH! So THAT'S the way this story is going to go..." and now I'm more intrigued.

Arsenic Pie said...

I only saw part of the Never Let Me Go movie and I didn't care for it, so maybe I should read the book instead. Or maybe I wasn't in the mood for it. Sounds like it's worth sticking around to watch after Dr. Who. Do do do da do do do do. Doo do do da do do do do.

Maggie Cats said...

I finally got around to watching this, and yeah, I was riveted.

I definitely see your point about pacing, but for some reason, this show really captured my attention and I found myself just sitting and watching it. Which almost NEVER happens. I am always wandering around doing other things, on the computer, etc. But yeah, this show grabbed me.

I think it might have been the look and tone, but also how, like Sarah, I had no idea what was coming next. I'll definitely be keeping up with it.