When Orphan Black made its debut on American television, I wasn’t there to see it. In fact, it seems as though most American viewers weren’t there to see it, having only brought in a few hundred thousand viewers at the time. The kind of viewers that would have made a broadcast network like CBS or NBC cancel the show immediately after one episode and maybe even consider firing the person who commissioned it. Who could really blame us though? It was an original series, not a reboot or based upon any other existing material like it seems nearly everything else is these days, and it was airing on a cable channel that was primarily known around my household for airing the wildly popular British import Doctor Who and reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Honestly, I’m not even sure that I knew they were into the original series market until this show hit the airwaves! Last but not least, they weren’t really employing any major star power here. Who the hell is Tatiana Maslany and what business does she have carrying her own series?
Boy was I wrong about every single one of these statements. And so are you if you still aren’t watching.
After the show’s first season finished airing, I recall reading a number of glowing reviews about the show online and people posting to Reddit about how much they loved the show and that it was their new obsession. It eventually took a member of my family buying the first season on DVD on a whim to cause me to finally research a little bit more about the show’s premise, which centrally dealt with the topic of cloning human beings and the science behind it and the struggles of nature vs. nurture and the touchy and somewhat icky concept of perfecting the human genome. It certainly had a fascinating story to tell and even though they seemed to be a bunch of unknowns, the cast did look pretty capable. What the hell? Let’s pop in the first disc and check out a couple of episodes to see if we like it!
I was hooked immediately after that first scene at the train station. What the $!*%?!!
I soon came to know and love all of Tatiana’s various characters: Sarah, the heroine of the series who is immediately drawn into the craziness of “clone club” after that first encounter; Alison, the borderline perfectionist soccer mom; Cosima, the bohemian scientist of the group; Helena, the crazy foreign serial killer; Rachel, the villainous upper-class businesswoman; Beth, the troubled police detective who jumped to her death in that opening sequence; and a great many more including Katja, Jennifer, Mika, Krystal, and the list goes on and on. If one were to include all of a series’ central characters rather than cast members in the opening sequence, different shots of Tatiana would pretty much dominate it. And dominate she does: Tatiana Maslany plays each of her different roles with a rare talent that can only be described as “surgical precision.” It is not a matter of the producers simply changing Tatiana’s hair or wardrobe whenever they want her to play someone else. Each of her clones is so diverse from one another in her acting and execution that it is often hard to remember, during the course of any given episode, that they are played by the same actress! Even her ability to mimic different accents is impeccable and eerily believable. She can switch between American, British, Ukranian and any number of other foreign dialects with relative ease. Even though she was recently nominated, it’s a real wonder, all things considered, why she hasn’t been winning all of the Emmy Awards!
This also isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be heaps of praise placed on the cast members surrounding Tatiana Maslany. Specifically Jordan Gavaris as Sarah’s foster brother Felix, Skyler Wexler as Sarah’s adorably peculiar daughter Kira, and Maria Doyle Kennedy’s incredible performance as Sarah and Felix’s foster mother Siobhán form Orphan Black‘s core family unit with Sarah’s sister clones — mostly Alison and Cosima — rotating in and out as the story demands. Each of the clones have their own story arcs ongoing as well that include various other characters, such as Alison’s goofy husband Donnie (Kristian Bruun), Cosima’s fellow scientist and love interest Delphine (Évelyne Brochu), and Beth’s former police detective partner Art (Kevin Hanchard). These characters populate and represent the other people in Tatiana’s “clone club” to know and care about when things start getting crazy and dangerous. And often times things do get crazy and dangerous with organizations such as Dyad, Topside, Neolution, the Proleatheans, Brightborn, etc. constantly trying to hunt down the clones. For the most part the clones just want to lead a normal life, but the people behind these more nefarious groups almost always seem to want to study, capture, or eliminate them.
Currently airing its fourth season, Orphan Black is better than ever. It has managed to return to its roots by revisiting characters and themes that played important roles during the show’s first season, specifically by placing a heavy emphasis on the character of Beth. We have seen more flashbacks to the kind of life she was leading up to the point of jumping in front of that train and been given more insight into the type of person she was, which the show hadn’t done outside of the secondhand details given from other characters. Unfortunately, the show is also now airing on a new night of the week without the benefit of a massive Doctor Who lead-in and is therefore struggling in the ratings more than ever. It’s honestly unbelievable that the show isn’t pulling in colossal Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead-esque ratings with the incredible amount of story and talent that are present, but the fact that so few people are watching and that we may one day soon face cancellation rather than the satisfying send-off a show like this would one day deserve is a serious travesty.
So do yourself a favor this weekend: Rather than scroll endlessly through Netflix before deciding there’s nothing you’re really all that interested in watching, check out and get caught up on Orphan Black! You can stream or download episodes of the series on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox Live, Vudu, and PlayStation Network. You can also catch every episode at BBCAmerica.com!