Monday, April 22, 2013

TV Show Review - Orphan Black

For the sake of establishing a baseline, here are some shows I do not like:

Doctor Who (any incarnation)
Being Human (British or American)

And here are some shows I DO like:

Sherlock (the one with Benedict Cumberpatch)

If you're a savvy TV nerd like myself, you might notice that all these shows have one thing in common - BBC America. Or, if you're in England, just BBC, because if you were in England watching BBC America, you would get all the commercials for diabetes testing kits and car warranties. Basically, I am aware of lots of what BBC America puts out, and tend to dismiss it unless it really catches my eye, because British people make some weird-ass television (only they call it 'tellie').

So when I first heard about Orphan Black, and someone told me it was about a girl who sees another girl commit suicide, only the two girls are identical (as in, played by the same actress), and then the one girl decides to impersonate the other girl, I was definitely ambivalent. I nodded and smiled and made a tiny mental Post-It note to check it out, but then the glue dried on the back of the note and it fell into the recycle bin where I keep the names of salad dressings I don't want to try. By the time I realized it might be worth checking out, three episodes had aired.

I sat this weekend and watched those three episodes, and then the fourth that updated while I was watching the other three, and this show is freaking AWESOME!

Before I get all into this, let me explain why I don't like Doctor Who or Torchwood. It comes down to internal consistency. I saw one episode of Doctor Who where this girl gets on a space jet-ski and flies between planets without a space suit. I've seen other episodes where people lose weight by making their fat cells turn into sentient creatures or they keep aliens as slaves, but the aliens can only talk through their little Pokeball and then they get mad and kill people. Torchwood is just as bad. These shows are silly and nonsensical. They do not make sense from one episode to the next. I want the damned things to allow me to suspend some disbelief without simply gathering my disbelief in a tattered sweatshirt and drowning it in the pool.

Oh, and I didn't like Being Human because it was wicked boring.

So far, Orphan Black makes sense, and is not the least bit boring. People get shot. One girl got stabbed with a sharp length of rebar. There's sex, too, and not making-out-in-bed-with-strategically-positioned-sheets sex, but bare-ass-naked-on-the-kitchen-counter sex. Only it's BBC America, so you only get to see butt crack. No nipples or promised land. But they do cuss a lot.

And the plot is twisted and excellent. See, the two girls look identical because they are clones. I'm not going to spill more than that, except to say that there is a huge cover-up and conspiracy and assassins and cops and villains and at least one exceptionally gay British man. Suffice to say that every week, a little of the mystery is revealed, and it leads to more mystery. And people don't just drop everything to pursue the mystery - they have boyfriends and siblings and kids and husbands, and life doesn't go on hiatus just because some wackadoo with a sniper rifle is offing people from the shrubbery.

While the mysteries in Orphan Black are far from revealed at this point, I can also say that so far, the show makes sense. We haven't seen any elements that demand that I lobotomize myself with a claw hammer if I want to suspend my disbelief (which is not true of Doctor Who). Everything seems to have an explanation, and one that makes sense beyond just a rubber mask and a time-traveling phone booth. I don't know what all the explanations are, but so far, I trust that I will know when the time is right.

Now, it may just be that my tastes run a little more toward American entertainment, but I have some serious issues with some of the acting. The main character, played by Tatiana Maslany, is thoroughly convincing, but if this were American TV, she would definitely be more conventionally pretty (although she does have a rockin' body, as evidenced by the multiple times she removes her clothing). The brother is super-duper-gay, and plays it farther over the top than any gay man I have ever known. The abusive ex-boyfriend is a stereotype of a human being. The partner, Art, seems to have two faces, one for being angry and the other for pretending people in general don't make him want to commit multiple homicides.

But I can overlook a few spots of rough acting, especially because the lead is amazing. She's played half-a-dozen different people at this point in the show, often with two or three in the same scene, and her accent is surprisingly good, considering she's American and then British and then German. One scene has her playing an American woman who is doing a bad job of impersonating a British girl, and it's shockingly good.

And the story is dynamite. It's engrossing and thrilling, with twists and turns and gut-wrenching revelations. Considering I'm only four episodes in, that's a lot of twisting and turning, so I can't wait to see what happens next, and maybe get some answers. Like, what is the fish brand? Who sent the angry angel? Could the boyfriend be any more obnoxious? Wait, I don't actually want the answer to the last one. I just want him to stop being obnoxious.

Orphan Black does have a few elements I could do without, like the boyfriend or the campy acting. But the story is so great, and the lead actress is doing such an amazing job, that I can easily overlook all the imperfections in this very entertaining show. If you like your science fiction with a side of conspiracy theory and a heaping dose of This Makes Sense, you should check out Orphan Black.

You can see more about the show here:


Anonymous said...

Tatiana Maslany is really, really good. There are times when I truely do forget she's the same person playing more than one character.

Matt Drake said...

Yes, we were watching the other night and remarking on what an amazing job that girl is doing on this show. Just watch Sarah walk somewhere with her street-punk strut, and compare that to any of the other girls played by the same exact girl, and it kind of makes your head hurt. You have to remind yourself that every one of those girls is the same person.