I’m a little late to the party on this one. People have been singing the praises of Orphan Black for a while now. I tried to watch it about a year back but didn’t get through the pilot.
That’s not the show’s fault though. You have to try a series for at least half of its first season before you can really make an educated decision on whether or not it’s for you. Some of the best shows start off slow. If people gave TV series more than one or two episodes before making a judgement call we might still have Firefly. (Probably not because Fox is Fox, but it would’ve helped!)
That’s a topic for another time though.
Today I’m taking a look at Orphan Black, a BBC America original series that also airs on Space in Canada. The third ten-episode season ended earlier in June of this year and it’s already been renewed for a fourth.
The show centers around Sarah, a sort of modern age Aladdin-esque street rat who’s returning home to see her daughter, and hopefully retake custody, after being gone for a year. Upon arriving home, Sarah sees a woman who looks exactly like her commit suicide by jumping in front of an oncoming train. Curious about her doppleganger, in a bad way financially and desperate to be reunited with her daughter, the plot ensues.
Should You Watch It?
The Short Answer: Yes
As I said before, no series makes it three seasons without having some appeal and/or redeeming qualities. Orphan Black has a strong, unique plot with plenty of likeable characters to root for and a host of superb performances. It has something for everyone and has received widespread acclaim and recognition for good reason.
- Tatiana Maslany
If you don’t recognize the name, you will soon. Tatiana is the actress who plays the main character and four other prominent supporting roles, and her performances are nothing short of spectacular. The show is worth watching for her acting talent alone. This year she’s finally been nominated for an Emmy and, having seen most of the other nominees, I feel pretty confident she should walk away with the award.
- A Unique Plot
We don’t get a lot of good sci-fi, which is really saying something when channels like the SyFy. Even when we do get good sci-fi it tends to be a rehash of the same tropes and stories we’ve seen time and again. (Not to mention a lot of it blurs into fantasy so much it’s not even really sci-fi.)
Orphan Black is a breath of original fresh air. It’s not based on a book we’ve all read or derivative of a story we’ve all heard countless times before. There’s nothing remotely like it anywhere else on television. It keeps you guessing at every turn and I gasped more than once at the surprise twists and plot points that happen throughout the first three seasons. If you’re a fan of great stories like me then you’ll love this one.
- Technical Genius
It’s not often that I wonder how a scene is shot, especially not as much as I do while watching Orphan Black. The show has won and been nominated for multiple editing and design awards. While I know that’s not why a lot of people watch television, it’s so impressive that it’s worth mentioning here. I’m sure even the most casual of viewers will find themselves curious while watching.
- Character Diversity and Likeability
One actress playing five primary characters opens up the show for even more roles. The people behind the series seem to recognize this and take full advantage by giving us a ton of characters. There’s someone here for everyone to root for and identify with, which is what audiences need if they’re going to stay for the long haul. Add to that superb writing that gives each character, regardless of how major or minor they are, a nice arcing personality that’s more than simple stereotypes and you have a plethora of likeable, memorable characters to choose from.
- Ten Episode Seasons
Orphan Black does more with ten episodes than a lot of shows do with sixteen or twenty-two. The fact that they’ve stuck with only ten episodes even after seeing the success they have is a testament to how well the show’s thought-out. There’s no fluff. It’s short, sweet and to the point.
- Plot Holes
I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers throughout this review, so I’m not going to give any of them away, but this show has some pretty significant plot holes. In the first season there’s one in particular that almost took me completely out of the narrative. It made no sense even after the characters tried to outright explain why it happened. The plot holes don’t ruin the show, and it’s entirely possible to be so engrossed that you don’t notice them, but they’re there.
It’s a sci-fi series, so a suspension of disbelief is required, but the series stretches that suspension a little too much. The performances do a great job of pulling you through the major moments of disbelief, but there are a quite a few moments and nuances to the show that’ll leave you thinking, “Yeah, right, there’s no way.” Again, they don’t get bad enough to ruin the show, but if you’re looking for something highly believable then you may want to look elsewhere.
- Ten Episode Seasons
While personally I like the ten episode seasons, I can see a lot of people being a little let down. They’re over quick and will almost certainly leave you wanting more. Even the greatest show in the world will get forgotten over time, and the super long hiatuses between ten episode seasons doesn’t do Orphan Black any favors. It’s not like it’s a high profile HBO show that’s talked about and referenced incessantly between seasons. (I’m looking at you Game of Thrones!)
My Final Thought
In case you didn’t already get the main point, I’m thoroughly impressed with Orphan Black. It’s a great show with great characters, phenomenal acting performances and an intriguing original plot that continues to keep me surprised and wanting more.
You can currently watch Orphan Black on Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, various On Demand systems and in areas online that may or may not be legal for me to talk about. Enjoy.