Sep 9 2013 2:00pm

Introducing the Orphan Black Rewatch

Orphan Black Rewatch

When Orphan Black premiered in the Spring of 2013, it was to fairly little fanfare compared to many other debuting series. Sure there was some advertisements running on television, but nothing compared to say, the promotion for TNT’s Falling Skies. The lead actress, Tatiana Maslany, was very much an unknown actress and the series was one of the first original scripted series for BBC America, a channel mostly known for showing Doctor Who and other imported programs from the United Kingdom, as well as some other ephemera such as a television version of Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist podcast, cooking shows and re-runs of Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Copper is the network’s first original drama and from the few episodes I’ve seen, a quality program in its own right).

The folks behind Orphan Black have some experience in scripted television, including executive producers Ivan Scheenberg and David Fortier (best known for Being Erica); Graeme Manson (Flashpoint); and John Fawcett (Spartacus). The drama is co-created by Manson and Fawcett, with Manson also serving as writer and Fawcett as director. The show; however, is anchored by the breathtaking and stunning performances (yes, plural) of Tatiana Maslanay, but you’ll see more of that as the series progresses and a bit more below.

So in more ways than one, Orphan Black was working with a blank slate of expectations. I can’t quite say if that had an overall effect on my reaction to the show and the majority of viewers who’ve been singing its praises, but it might be safe to say few television channels could have pulled off this show. Certainly not one of the major networks, not a cable network like TNT or USA and frankly, this is a show that’s smarter than the majority of what’s being aired on the network formerly known as the SciFi Channel. Maybe the only channels that could have pulled off the show with its mix of powerful drama, adult edge, and riskiness were F/X or AMC. Suffice it to say, viewers might agree with me that BBC America and Orphan Black were a perfect match as two entities striving to prove themselves in the increasingly crowded television viewer’s time in an era some would agree is something of a new Golden Age for televised drama.

The show is currently available on home video (Blu-Ray & DVD), as well as On Demand through most cable companies. BBC America will be re-airing the show in sequence beginning September 14. As such, a new recap on Mondays after each “new” episode will be posted, beginning September 16, a week from the date of this post. As the series drew to a close and more viewers flocked to this show, the buzz was generating to the point that many have praised Maslany’s performance as the best on scripted television over the past year and worthy of not just Emmy award consideration, but an Emmy award win. Maslany’s performance has received a Critics’ Choice Television Award and TCA Award already this year. The whole cast is terrific, and though there are no real “A” list names in it, the actors/actresses are by no means inexperienced and the cast includes some relatively recognizable faces.

Like the best science fiction, science is an essential element to the show but doesn’t overshadow the storytelling or characters in any way. Of course cloning is a common trope in SF, but at least in filmed SF, this might be the best and most logical treatment of the inherit problems with clones I’ve viewed. Great SF (and science for that matter) doesn’t always offer the answers, but gives people questions to consider. Such is the case with Orphan Black.

Orphan Black Clones Tatiana Maslany

Much of SF is male-centric, not so with Orphan Black. Each of the women Maslany portrays as the series progresses has a sense of power over herself, despite being manipulated from outside forces. These roles and their ‘base of power’ as characters does not come as reflection of the men in their lives.

Like many scripted Science Fiction shows these days, Orphan Black is filmed in Canada. Viewers will likely recognize some of the filming locales and definitely some of the actors and actresses. For me, it wasn’t initially clear in which city the show takes place. Especially in the first episode, the camera doesn’t settle on anything immediately identifiable (i.e. the names on the side of the police cars, street signs, etc) other than giving me the sense that “Hey, this could be any big North American city.”

Over the course of these ten episodes, themes of personal identity, freedom, the dangers benefits of science, among many others are touched upon not the least of which (unsurprisingly) is the ethics of human cloning. Throughout these ten episodes, the writing and the acting makes for a superb convergence of entertainment and thought provocation. With most of these ten episodes, any expectations viewers may have had from previous weeks’ episodes get crumpled up and tossed in the trash. I mean that in the best possible way—at least through the first season it seemed clear the writers have a plan, a long game if you will.

Part of what has made this show so enjoyable and smart is simply how seriously it takes itself. The primary players—Sarah, her foster brother Felix (Fee as she calls him), her foster mother Mrs. C., and Beth’s (the first clone we meet) lover Paul—all act logically and, for the most part, don’t play the part of idiot just to advance the plot. The writers and network weren’t afraid to push boundaries, and they trusted both the intelligence of their audience and the abilities of their actors.

I realize some folks are coming to this series for the first time so I’ll try to keep spoilers out of the posts, or at least to a minimum. That is, I’m not going to discuss elements revealed in episode 8 in the first episode, except for may be a note to remember a particular point.

I want to have fun with this, too so I’ll have a little tally at the end of each of these write-ups. Initially I’ll have the following, where appropriate:

Clone Count: Number of clones in the episode
Clone Total: Number of clones revealed to this point in the series.
Sexy Time: As I’ve intimated, this series pushes the boundaries in many ways, not the least of which is how the sex is depicted and how little clothing remains on the characters when they engage.
Hey, it’s that guy/gal! Viewers of science fiction and fantasy television and movies have become accustomed to how incestuous the field is. You’ll see some familiar faces as the show progresses.

Rob Bedford lives in NJ with his wife and dog. He reviews books and moderates forums at SFFWorld and runs a blog about stuff. He sometimes wonders if he is a clone, but shudders at the thought of multiple versions of him mucking up people’s lives.

Gwen Potter
1. tariqata
My husband and I became rather evangelical about Orphan Black after watching the first few episodes - I'm really pleased to see it getting some attention here and I look forward to the re-watch!
Constance Sublette
2. Zorra
So far -- the single season -- the only criticism for Orphan Black was that easy solution that Sarah reaches for, to deflect interest from dangerous information about her identity/identities is to blind the males with sex. OTOH, within the context of the events, it makes sense, and then, later, it comes back to bite her in the, well identity ploy.

If that's all too cryptic, it's because I'm attempting to avoid spoilage.

That the cast includes the marvelous Maria Doyle Kennedy as Mrs. S. is almost like getting chocolate cake when you weren't expecting it.

I also keep thinking of the cast as being all the clones, rather than as single actress. She's so good at creating each clone as a separate and entire personality. I hope she doesn't burn out before the series concludes. It's got to be grueling.

Love, C.
Robert H. Bedford
3. RobB
2. Zorra
Yes, Masliany is phenomenal. Sarah does deflect with sex, but I think she thinks pretty quickly on her feet. Her sexiness/body doesn't define her, but is naturally one facet to her, just one and not the only strength she
4. Herb505
1) I want to see what FX would do with a Science Fiction show.

2) This looks awesome. How have I never heard of it?

3) BBC America's website very helpfully includes a guide where to "binge watch." Unfortunately, none of the free options work for me, but it looks like they're rerunning season 1 on a weekly basis starting with episode 1 on the 14th.
Robert H. Bedford
5. RobB
4. Herb505
1) Have you read THE EXPANSE series by James S.A. Corey (aka Daniel Abraham & Ty Franck)? That great Space Opera/SF show just got optioned, it would be interesting to see FX pick that one up.

2) There wasn't too much hype surrounding this one initially.

3) Indeed they are re-airing the show. Check back next Monday for my recap of episode one.
Steven Lyle Jordan
6. Steven_Lyle_Jordan
Well, that just goes to show you that nobody's perfect. And if a person like Sarah, essentially a career screw-up, suddenly started making hyper-intelligent decisions about everything, would that make sense? There have been many bad decisions among the clones in the first season, but given the circumstances, they've mostly been understandable (IOW, very few of the bad decisions seemed like they only happened to advance the program, not because they seemed plausible at the time).

That's why I agree that, beyond Tatiana's incredible acting job, the stories we've seen so far have been top-notch, way beyond anything seen on prime-time on any of the major networks, and worthy of accolade.

FX is a Fox station. Remember what Fox did to Firefly? I wouldn't hold your breath on that one.
7. Eugene R.
While the plotting did occasionally baffle me (not in a good way, alas), Ms. Maslany's work is outstanding, to the point where she not only creates recognizable characters from a set of clones, but she creates recognizable *impersonations* within the set (e.g., it is easy to "spot" when Alison is doubling for Sarah because of the subtle overlay of Alison body language onto "Sarah"). I will definitely be back to watch Season 2.
8. jerec84
Loved this show, still bit recent for a re-watch. I might do it about 2 weeks before season 2 starts.
9. utiuts
Umm is it just me? But I found a very wide logical gap here in the legal aspect of the story. FYI, this comment contains spoiler of the first season.

The cloning experiment they're having is not applicable. Patent rights on humans? Never.

And the agreement they're forced to sign at the end of the season? It's null and void, because it's an illegal object of agreement to begin with.

Maybe I think too much and overanalysing it, but this irked me through the whole season which made me enjoy watching it less. I like my story to be believable and logical, even in the fantasy/sci-fi genre.

However, I do admit Maslany's performance is amazing. If I watch the next season, I'll watch it for her.
Chuk Goodin
10. Chuk
The show is quite clearly both set and filmed in Toronto. (Spoiler: one clone is specifically said to live in Scarborough.)
Robert H. Bedford
11. RobB
8. jerec84
"bit recent for a re-watch. I might do it about 2 weeks before season 2 starts."

Fair points, I'm guessing that BBC America is reairing the show right now for a couple of reasons. We are just about right in the middle of the six months since the show's final episode and the first episode of the new season. Also, by the time this re-airing is complete, we'll be close enough to Christmas shopping that the idea of Season 1 on BluRay/DVD would be fresh on gift buyer's minds. Again, just speculation on my part.

10. Chuk
Yup, it becomes more clear as the series progresses that this takes place in Canada. At first, for me, it wasn't quite so clear.
James Henry
12. redraobyek
Great show. And this geek is compelled to point out that Cosima is beyond awesome.
13. spacechampion
@9: utiuts
I love this show. I would have thought patenting the clone genome is ridiculous, too, but then in real life the US Supreme Court ruled patenting natural genes is illegal, but patenting synthetic genes is totally ok.

And the Orphan Black finale seemed to me to imply the government was involved in some way, and might have created a law that gave the company some legal cover.
14. jlock
I just got BBCA last week and have watched the first 2 episodes on demand. Very interesting. There is so little decent science fiction on TV anymore - I will take all I can get.

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