Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Orphan Black: The First Four Episodes

I think I've said it before, BBC television really knows what it's doing by dividing series into short, succinct stories.  It hasn't always worked (seriously, what was up with that Robin Hood series some years ago?), but for the most part any series I start to get into, I tend to follow.

Except Doctor Who.  I've still only ever seen one episode of that.  Maybe someday.

But for now, we're talking clones, we're talking barely-science fiction, and we're talking complicated plots and diverse acting from one young woman that makes Michael Keaton in Multiplicity seem bland.

Let's dig a bit deeper.

I'm going to do my best to not reveal any massive spoilers, so here's a simple premise for the show (so far):

A young woman, a con artist by trade, witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks identical to her.  In an attempt to clean out the woman's finances before the world realizes she's dead (as well as to escape her ex-boyfriend), she learns two things:  One, the woman she's impersonating is a cop, and two, there are other women who look exactly like her, and it appears someone is attempting to kill all of them.

Simple, no?


Yeah, you're right, but I want to discuss this topic first:  Orphan Black is doing a rather amazing job keeping its story line straight and not getting caught up in its own cleverness.  So far.  So many shows I've seen love to provide so many twists and turns that it winds up being self-congratulatory, if that's a phrase that makes sense.  "Oh, look how smart we are, we thought up this really elaborate plot twist that changes EVERYTHING, but really didn't work the story right to have any of it make sense."

See also: Lost, Persons Unknown, Battlestar Galactica, X-Files, and even my beloved Stargate SG-1.

In Orphan Black, however, there's really only two big stories being told, and each one is given equal time to develop, while a few side topics are addressed and added to as time goes on.  However, nothing happens that leaves you going "wait, that makes no sense in the context of everything we know so far" or "how the hell did nobody notice THAT before?"

Although I am curious how one clone became a cop if criminal background checks also include fingerprinting, and there was another version of her running around getting arrested.

The acting in the series is, for the most part, completely solid.  The lead actress, Tatiana Maslany, is a complete breath of fresh air in how many different types of characters she plays.  It's easy to forget that it's one person playing so many people (remember: clones), and any time more than one of her are on the screen together, my brain always gets momentarily twisted as I remember it's her acting with herself.

The rest of the cast is extremely engaging and interesting, with no real dead weight.  However, I will say that the lead character's foster brother seems a bit too disconnected with everything at times.  Moments that are supposed to be tense or dramatic are instead given all the seriousness of a high school play when he starts talking (a moment at a wake sums this up since somehow nobody else can hear him as he stands right by people while taking on the phone), and he doesn't seem to be taking the whole "someone might be attempting to murder my foster sister who I just found out is a clone" matter quite as seriously as one would expect.

It's also interesting to see a story set in Toronto instead of just filmed in Canada and taking place in the United States (looking at you, most television programs that involve woods).  Toronto really feels like it has its own personality and character (no pun intended), and the show does extremely well moving from fancier areas to the poorer parts of town.  Unlike "yet another series" taking place in a city everybody's seen to death (New York), it's great to get a fresh look at somewhere that isn't done to death in major programming.

I'm still getting through the first season, obviously, but with as much as I've already seen, I can almost guarantee I'll be finished soon and will be able to do a full review of the season upon completion.

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