Mosaic / Reviews / April 23, 2014

‘Orphan Black’ best show on TV you aren’t watching

There are the shows that everyone watches (the “Game of Thrones” intro music seems to follow me everywhere) and then are shows that everyone hears about but neglects to watch. Heard of “Orphan Black”? Yes? Maybe in passing? I want you to watch it.

Canada has given the world the best gift since maple syrup: science fiction thriller about clones that stars an actress of the same caliber as Meryl Streep. Yes, you read correctly. Do I have your attention, eh?

Season two just aired this past Saturday the 17th, but let’s travel back to the first episode of season one: Sarah Manning is the first character we meet. Sporting an edgy dyed ‘do, dark-rimmed eyes and a thick English accent that drips of street smarts, she seems hell-bent on keeping close to the shadows and out of the limelight. But when she comes face to face with a woman who could be confused for her own reflection, startling information concerning identity and freedom are brought to light. As the series progresses, Sarah meets more women who look exactly like her, only to discover that something much more complex and ominous is behind this “Parent Trap” experience.

The first season aired last year in late March, running for 10 episodes before signing off in June. Finally it has reappeared for a long-awaited second season, and it will continue to air on Saturday evenings at 9/8 central on BBC America for nine more episodes.

Tatiana Maslany plays Sarah. She also plays Alison Hendrix, a neurotic soccer mom; Cosima Niehaus, an eccentric queer geek-girl with dreadlocks and a convenient knowledge of evolutionary development biology; and Helena, a psychotic childlike religious fanatic with an unfortunate tendency to murder. There are other clones that have little screen time, such as Beth Childs, the first clone that Sarah came across. Beth dies in the first episode, but we learn so much about her life that she posthumously develops a character that claims distinction and intrigue.

The plot is engaging and keeps the audience guessing constantly, but frankly I watch for Maslany. She’s simply remarkable. The 28-year-old Canadian actress grew up in the unobtrusive town of Regina, Saskatchewan, and claimed only a handful of past roles for her resume prior to “Orphan Black.” The casting directors knew what they were doing, however, for she more than makes up for her newcomer status and skimpy resume by playing nine-plus characters in her rise to fame on “Orphan Black.”

Not only is Maslany required to play multiple characters in one show, showcasing an incredible skill for credible accent shifting, but what is even more startling is that these characters frequently interact on screen and impersonate one another. Maslany has to play, for instance, Helena pretending to be the Beth Childs that she saw Sarah pretend to be. Maslany is required to have authentic accents when her characters are acting as themselves, but then transition to slightly stilted dialects when one clone is portraying another clone. It’s nothing short of miraculous. Shockingly, I have such faith in Maslany’s abilities that I never watch for missteps; she knows exactly what she’s doing. In fact, even when multiple clones are chatting with each other in the same scene — the same shot — I forget that I’m watching a singular actress portraying multiple characters.

As I said, the twists and turns the show provides situate me on the edge of my seat, and I would probably tune in just for the writing and originality, were Maslany not at the helm. But as she is, I cannot recommend “Orphan Black” highly enough. It’s exciting, funny, thought-provoking, and Maslany’s performance is a bona fide tour de force. Hop on the bandwagon, friends: clones are the new zombies.

Emma Frey, Copy Editor

Tags:  orphan black review science fiction television thriller

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