Cult-hit from BBC America, Orphan Black, is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, hands down (& I watch a dumb amount of tv). I purchased the first two seasons on a whim at Target one day and binged them the very same weekend. Most importantly, after a five season run, the show ended in a good way, which is a lot to say since most long-running shows usually end in a dumpster fire that pisses off fans and critics alike. I continually return to this show, year after year, to rewatch and fall in love with the characters all over again. It also the first show I recommend and loan to friends looking for something new. Here’s why you should give this sci-fi series a chance (explained without spoilers).
1. Tatiana Maslany is the HBIC
Orphan Black’s lead actress Tatiana Maslany plays a whooping 14 different characters throughout the show, oftentimes appearing in the same scene with multiple versions of herself. Not only that, but the characters will pretend to be other characters in the show which is a major mindf*ck. For example: Sarah will pretend to be Rachel and it’s obvious that it’s Sarah’s character. Thanks to a great continuity coach that assists on every episode to make sure that the movements, speech patterns and overall character vibe is correct, this show is mind blowing. When watching the show, you forget that it’s just one actress playing all of the parts because Tatiana is so unbelievably talented. From accents to voice pitch to style and characteristics, she is hands down one of the best actresses of this century.
2. Endless Twists and Turns
This show, while an emotionally heavy investment, has an endless amount of twists and turns. The first episode starts with a bang and that momentum carries all the way through five seasons. Orphan Black is hard to describe because it deals with almost every theme including: cults, religion, science experiments, cloning, infertility, LGBTQ+, familial bonds, body modification, nature vs. nurture, military, drugs, body autonomy and most importantly the idea of a family, created by choice. OB does not shy away from hard topics like rape, abuse, self-harm, substance abuse or miscarriages – which controversially or not – can make this show emotionally hard to watch at times.
While there are male characters in the show (S/O Felix, Art and Paul), the show is heavily female led. The protagonist is Sarah Manning with the story following her life as she tries to make amends for her dark past. The main villains also are primarily female, which is an interesting dynamic to see. Sometimes the female villain trope is too played out; too emotional, too vengeful, too easy to understand and defeat. Each of the female characters in the show are unique, strong, defiant and not bound by cursory design.
4. Realistic Characters with Realistic Reactions
So often nowadays, everyone has a super power or extra something to help them through hard situations. This show only has one character that is a little unordinary – Sarah Manning’s daughter Kira. Everyone else for the most part is utterly normal. Allison lives a suburban soccer mom life. Cosima is a scientist attending university. Rachel is a career woman. Sarah is a single mom trying to win back her daughter. Beth was a police officer. Normal people in the face of something absolutely horrendous and abnormal – yet they surpass the circumstances regardless. The character arcs in the show are a sight to see. Paul, a character you love to hate from the beginning, has one of the best character arcs of the entire show and it is heartbreaking. Over the course of five seasons, each character grows in their own way.
5. Cinematic Techniques
One of the most incredible things that Orphan Black does is stitch together scenes involving two characters played by Tatiana Maslany. And I’m not talking just having two of them in a room together utilizing jump cuts like The Parent Trap (1998). These scenes have the characters fighting each other, dancing together, comforting each other and singing together; which again, as one woman playing all of the characters – that’s a feat. Tatiana did have a stunt double to work with in the scenes, who she often referred to as the unsung hero of the show – Kathryn Alexandre. Cinematically, this show would have been so much different without the use of the Technodolly. Technodolly’s memorize a scene and its own movements so that a scene can be shot multiple times then stitched together. OB’s use of the technodolly paved the way for other sci-fi shows like What Happened To Monday (2017).
6. Found Families
One of the biggest takeaways from Orphan Black is the sense of family. Sarah starts out as a misguided single mom, formerly an orphan, who is just trying to run her next scam. She falls into a wild crazy situation which she has absolutely no reason to get involved in – but does anyways. A once lonely-forgotten shit of a person becomes a sister, a mother, a lover and friend. Perfect strangers come together under circumstance to create a true family – something that they never had before. I am a firm believer in found families – families that you create based on your own needs and a shared sense of community which this show emulates perfectly.
Orphan Black can be emotionally heavy and may not be a good fit for everyone, so please watch at your own speed / emotional ability. All seasons can be streamed for free on Amazon Prime Video or you can rent them if you do not have an Amazon membership. It could also be streamed on Netflix EU, as of fall 2019.