So, NOW what do I do on Saturday nights? I’m a bit sad that one of my favourite TV shows, Orphan Black, came to an end two weeks ago. On the other hand, I’m glad that they knew when to end it — the story had been fully told and the characters’ situations were satisfactorily resolved. I found myself smiling and sighing happily at the end. (Note that some spoilers follow, as it’s pretty much impossible to talk about this particular show without giving away some of what makes it special.)
For the uninitiated, Orphan Black is a very bingeable Canadian sci-fi thriller spanning 5 TV seasons. It aired on Space in Canada and on BBC America in the U.S. The premise is really unique, with good writing and even better acting. Series creators, screenwriter Graeme Manson and director John Fawcett, have been heavily involved throughout the whole show.
It is not a show for kids, partially because there is some sex and profanity. Also, though, as an action thriller, there is a lot of violence, most of which fits the context, but some of which made me turn my eyes away. In fact, in Season 5, one scene disturbed me so much that I had to back away for a few weeks. But I was glad I came back to see the characters through to the end of their story.
The main character, played by Tatiana Maslany, is Sarah Manning, a leather-jacketed punky chick from England. She’s not really an upstanding citizen, and when she sees someone who looks exactly like her jump in front of a train, she steals her belongings and identity. As she assumes the life of this Canadian police detective, Beth Childs, it is clear that there is a lot of scary stuff going on. Turns out, she and Beth are clones… and there may be more! Conspiracies abound and there is danger at every turn.
If you think a show about clones might be far-fetched, rest assured that it actually comes across as believable. But there is so much going on that you really have to pay attention. There are very likeable characters that you can really care about, as well as villains and conspirators, and even some characters where you’re not really sure what side they’re on at any particular time. And there is a lot of humour thrown in, too. Alison (one of the clones) is a soccer mom persona and she and her bumbling husband Donnie are hilarious, while still getting in on a lot of the thrilling action. (They live in the same bit of Toronto suburbia that I spent my teenage years in!)
Lead Actor – Tatiana Maslany
Tatiana Maslany is frankly amazing. Each clone that she plays (and there are many) is so completely unique in personality, demeanour, and accent that you would swear they are truly different people. Even the English clones have different accents. While watching, I kept forgetting that they were all one actress. She finally won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 2016 for her work in Episode 4.07., where she actually played seven different characters!
Maslany was interviewed on CBC Radio’s Q (audio here) and she mentioned that, between scenes, she uses a unique music playlist for each of the clones to quickly get into the appropriate character. The clones are often in the same scene together, which requires extremely talented doubles and tricky camera work and post production techniques. But you really don’t notice any of the “trickery”.
In the Q interview, Maslany says, “…what’s really exciting about our show [is]… it … really puts women at the centre and tells female stories … from different perspectives… instead of just showing one version of a woman who is likely attached to a man. … basically none of our characters have, you know, a guy as their end goal …”
Maslany’s next role is in the movie Stronger opposite Jake Gyllenhaal, based on the true story of Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, coming out in September.
The Other Actors
Maslany is surrounded by many other excellent actors, with special mention to Jordan Gavaris (Degrassi TNG, Unnatural History) as Sarah’s adopted brother Felix, playing a wonderfully campy gay artist who likes to paint in the nude. There is a really interesting June 2017 interview in Vulture with Gavaris, where he comes out publicly as gay for the first time, talks about the potential impact of that on a person’s career and about the effect of celebrity vs talent in getting roles and project funding, and even turns the tables and asks the interviewer a few questions.
In Maslany’s Q interview mentioned above, she said that with transgender, gay and bisexual characters amongst the clones and other characters, the show receives feedback from young people who say that it helped them “to come out, talk to [their] parents about who [they are and] see [themselves] represented on screen.”
Other actors include seasoned Irish actor, Maria Doyle Kennedy (The Commitments, The Tudors, Downton Abbey) as their adoptive mother and fierce protector, Kristian Bruun (Murdoch Mysteries) who brings a great comedic touch as Alison’s husband Donnie, former model Dylan Bruce (As the World Turns, Arrow) as Beth’s boyfriend Paul, Ari Millen as several opposing clone characters, and veteran screen and stage actor Kevin Hanchard as Detective Art Bell.
Matt Frewer (Castlevania, Max Headroom) has an important recurring role in the enemy camp spanning all 5 seasons of Orphan Black. And Michelle Forbes (Berlin Station, The Killing, Star Trek TNG) also has a part for three episodes in Season 2.
(All images from IMDb)
In Canada, the first four seasons of Orphan Black are available on Crave TV (where my early bingewatching got me hooked). The final season episodes are on Space.