Tag Archives: BBC America

End of Season Report: Orphan Black – Season 2

30 Jun

Several of the Orphans Black

Orphan Black may never be a canonically great show, whatever that means, but it’s a very good show an perhaps more importantly, a very enjoyable show. Orphan Black succeeds so well at this because it smartly decides consciously or not, to be a five tool player, being pretty good at a number of different aspects, rather than throwing all of its proverbial TV eggs in one basket and trying to be great at just one thing. Let me explain.

Orphan Black is serious, but it’s also funny. There’s plenty of action, and there’s also science fiction. The plot is important, but so is the characterization and the relationships. Now, partly this may sound somewhat prosaic – any very good show should be pretty solid at several of these characteristics. First, that’s not really case, and second, Orphan Black spreads the wealth better than most.

Just the sense of humor alone is incredibly important. Orphan Black is funny, and more than funny it’s silly, which helps deflate what could be a sense of self-importance from the clone plot which doesn’t always make the most amount of sense. Many solid but not transcendent shows have no sense of humor whatsoever – Homeland, Boardwalk Empire, and The Walking Dead among them. While it’s not impossible to pull off, it’s difficult to be great with that level of drudgery. In fact, the very best shows, which probably could have skated by without any humor, like Mad Men, The Wire, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad, instead, can be very funny at times.

A show like House of Cards has no sense of humor and rests on its plot, which doesn’t make any sense, hurting the show’s value. Orphan Black’s plot, like House of Cards’ connects the show episode to episode and drives it forward. Yet, because the show is funny, because it seems to buy in on its own sense of camp, the shows replay value is much higher.

The most responsibility for humor in Orphan Black sits on Alison’s shoulders. He plots are hilarious, from her play, to her rehab, to her relationship with poor Donnie, who goes from sinister schmuck to merely pathetic schmuck to empowered schmuck in a heartbeat.

Ophan Black does has a somewhat stupid plot that doesn’t necessarily and can’t really make sense if one thinks too much about it. It also has the very dangerous season to season expanding the scope problem that sci fi and supernatural shows tend to face. Basically, if Dyad is responsible for the clones, now there has to be someone above Dyad, or what else is the show going to be about for the next season. There need to keep being new, bigger, reveals, or it’ll feel like the show has already peaked. Scenes like those involving Krya’s dad typing into the darknet, whatever that is, well, I have no idea what he’s talking about, but luckily I really don’t care. None of this matters so much because the show is enjoyable on its face, regardless of actually untangling the details behind the creation of the clones.

This isn’t just due to humor. The relationships are powerful, between the clones, particularly. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Orphan Black uses sci-fi/fantasy as ways to get at powerful human bonds.

Some of the side characters are stupid, and most of them are bland. It’s pretty much Tatiana Maslany’s show, with a nod to the consistently excellent Jordan Gavaris as Felix, by far the best and most important supporting player.

I don’t have much more to say about Maslany other than the consistent heaping of praise I try to hand out on any occasion I can, and she takes on even more characters this year. She’s wonderful and one of the main engines that makes the show go – if the opening credit sequence was honest, her name would appear five times. If the show does have have an X factor, it’s her, and that would be enough to make the show worth watching even if it were less enjoyable overall.

Orphan Black has it all; it’s got action, it’s got laughs, it’s got strong characters (albeit most of those characters are played by the same actress, but still). It will never be the best at any one of these; it will never have the taut plotting of Breaking Bad or the first season of Homeland, the character bonds of Six Feet Under, the action of 24. But by smartly throwing it all together, with more than a touch of Maslany’s magic, it gets the benefit of having a little bit of everything, and that makes it, while never the best show on TV, a consistently compelling view; you may not get it all in any given episode, but you’re bound to get something good.

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The Curious Lack of Location in Orphan Black

16 May

Toronto or nowhere

Orphan Black is a very enjoyable show featuring an actress giving a unique and all-world performance. I’ve talked about it before and I look forward to discussing the ins and outs of the current season in an End of Season Report in a few weeks. Now, though, a random point about Orphan Black that is apparent to me in almost every minute of the show, but maybe not to anyone else.

Over my many years of watching TV, but particularly the last five or so when I’ve turned a dangerous level of watching TV into a dangerously obsessive lack-of-Vitamin D level of watching TV, I’ve started to really hone in on watching for where a show takes place and where a show is filmed. This came about mostly due to my personal distaste for shows set in NYC filming in LA, and I’ve become excellent at spotting shows that actually film in NYC and those that don’t.

Some shows prominently feature their location, whether they’re set there or not. 30 Rock was all about the NYC, but so was How I Met Your Mother which was clearly shot in LA. In some shows, the setting is largely in the background, but usually you can figure out what it is, either because they actively say it at least a couple of times, or just due to background factors, names of locations and streets, either that are actually in the background, or that characters say are in the background to make it feel like the show is set there.

Orphan Black, though, features absolutely none of that. From day one, I tried to figure out where it was supposed to be set; and the harder it became to figure out, the more intensely I tried. Early on, I suspected, correctly it was filmed in Toronto, which was quickly confirmed, and not having found any information to the contrary, I started looking for signs that the city was supposed to actually be Toronto (not that I know Toronto so well, as much as I knew it was a BBC America production co-produced by Canadian television, and odds were it was either Vancouver and Toronto from that point).

In fact, the lack of obvious location early on made me think the show took place in the near future rather than the present, from just how it seemed to be set in “the city” rather than any one real place, giving it even more of an air of science fiction.

Toronto, it must be, I figured. I looked everywhere for blatant evidence it had to be. It was never mentioned in the script but I looked deeper. The police uniforms or the department building? Nothing. In fact, it started to be strange that people weren’t mentioning it; as if they were altering their speech in odd ways to avoid ever saying the city they were in.

I thought I might be crazy at one point, but it turns out this was a conscious decision, even if no one probably cared quite as much as I did about it. This interview, which I finally found, after I thought that the secret was still there but that I would never find it, illuminated the fact that it was a decision to avoid alienating Canadian or American audiences, which is noble, but still a little bit strange to me. It feels pretty sci-fi at least.

Still, I’m glad the mystery is solved. You can’t elude me, TV, at least about locations. Try again.

Spring 2013 Review: Orphan Black

2 Aug

OrphanBlack1

Orphan Black takes place in what seems to be the very near future in what I think is actually Toronto but seems to be an unnamed Canadian city.  I can tell it’s the near future because it looks pretty much like today but the train station at the beginning is called “Huxley Station” which sounds like a perfect dystopian name for a train station and it seems like their science is ever so slightly more advanced than ours.

Sarah, who we don’t even know is Sarah at this point, is transferring trains when she sees a woman slowly and methodically put her bag down, take her shoes off, and walk right out in front of a train.  Watching a woman commit suicide would be traumatizing in any situation, but the thing is, this woman looked exactly, and I mean exactly, like Sarah.  Sarah, who seems to be some kind of minor criminal personage, thinks enough to take the woman’s bag.

It turns out Sarah is on the run from a crazy ex-beau, Vic, and back into whatever this city is, where she’s left her best friend/foster brother, Felix, and her kid (looks to be about, I don’t know 6?), for the better part of a year.  She’s being chased by said ex-beau, and a brilliant idea comes to her when she snoops around and find out that the woman who killed herself has a nice apartment and 75K in the bank, and really, really looks like her.  She’ll pretend the dead body was hers and take over the woman’s life.  What Sarah wants at this point is to get her daughter, who’s being raised by her foster mom, and Felix, and get out of Dodge (proverbially; I don’t think the city is named Dodge, though I can’t be certain).

Problem is, she realizes, the woman, Elizabeth Childs, has troubles of her own.  She’s a cop, who has to face an inquest after shooting a civilian a few months ago, apparently has some sort of pill-popping issues, and has birth certificates from other woman born around the same time as Sarah and herself in a safe deposit box.  Sarah gets a call, on Beth’s phone, from someone, who is on one of the birth certificates.

She’s watching her own wake from afar when a German who has pink hair but otherwise looks exactly like her gets into her car, and then very shortly after gets shot; the person on the phone tells her to go bury the body, which she does.

All Sarah wants to get out of town with some money, Felix, and her daughter, who she’s hoping won’t think she’s dead, but before she can do that she has to get through the troubles that Beth’s life has caused her, while still facing her inherent curiosity into why there are several people running around town who look exactly like her, and a couple of them seem to be dying.

Tatiana Maslany, who plays Sarah, and every Sarah lookalike, gives an incredible performance as multiple characters with different looks and personalities; she’s so convincing at separating the characters that I often forget that it’s her playing every role. The show gives you just enough information to make you really want to know more about what’s going on.  Many serial science fiction shows try this feat – to dole just enough plot  each episode to make you hungry for what you’re missing, but it’s a difficult pacing battle that most shows in this genre fail at.

Additionally, very few succeed in the most important test for a first episode – after I finished watching, do I immediately want to pop on the next episode.  I did, when watching Orphan Black, which feels more like a tight science fiction thriller than one of these grand central mystery science fiction shows like Under the Dome, Revolution, or Terra Nova, etc.   It also has some of the classic paranoia/conspiracy vibe of ‘70s neonoir; there are people watching you everywhere, you never know if anybody is really on your side or working against you, and you don’t know if anybody really is who they say they are.

On first impression, Orphan Black feels cool (I know that’s such a non-technical world, but that’s really the first word that comes to mind, both in the sense of low-key ’70s sunglasses-on slick, and the thirteen year old (or hell, me, still) watching a stadium implode thinking “that’s so cool”) and well-executed. The camera work is smooth, the plot moves, not action-movie fast, but fast enough that it never feels plodding, and we know just enough to know how little we know. We follow along with Sarah, knowing, for the first episode anyway, what she knows and nothing more, and we’re constantly being surprised when she finds a new piece of the puzzle.

There’s always the caveat that these things go wrong, because it’s easy to screw up, but I think this should be less difficult to handle than the big sci-fi shows (Revolutions, Under the Domes, etc) because Orphan Black smartly slowly rolls out its premise, rather than putting out an epic central mystery right away which is hard to fulfill while being both plausible but not anticlimactic.  It should be easier to have a taut story that works, unless this plot goes so much wider and deeper than I’m imagining at this point. Again, dramas are lost but rarely won in the first episode but there’s easily enough here to move forward. It’s fun, which is something a lot of the more bloated science fiction shows on television lose in their attempt at deeper meaning and emotional heft.

Will I watch it again?  Yeah.  It was pretty exciting, and had a cool factor, like a well-engineered science-fiction action movie.  Plus, there’s only ten episodes, so the commitment is relatively minimal, which doesn’t hurt.  It’s a fun ride without any of the huge overarching-ness of the epic sci-fi series that have just disappointed me over and over again in recent years.

Summer 2012 Review: Copper

8 Sep

So, as a terrible joke (the use of the word “joke” is charitable), a friend and I started calling this show “Cobbler” and now I can’t get it out of my head.  So, let’s cobble it out.

It’s the early ‘60s.  The 1860s, that is, and we’re located in the Five Points, a la Gangs of New York.  The Civil War rages, but we don’t really care.  Our main character is “Copper” Kevin, a former Civil War soldier who returned with his daughter dead and his wife…missing?  We open with an ambush of three would-be bank robbers.  Well, they get the robbing part right and all, but are taken out a few yards from the bank by Kevin and two colleagues.  The take down is violent – they shoot first, and ask questions later, though with good reason, and grab some of the cash before their superiors gather it up for return to the bank.  They’re not corrupt; that’s just the way the 1860s work.

Kevin and his partner each have their own lady loves, I can’t really figure out a whole lot about them from the pilot.  He also gets an offer to referee a boxing match from the scion of a rich family, something or other Morehouse, who likes Kevin because Kevin gave him an assist in the war – always the great social equalizer.  While there he meets the prototypical rich local plutocrat, Mr. Haverford and his English wife, Mrs. Haverford.  You might be seeing them again!

Soon, a girl is found murdered.  Kevin notices that she is the girl he saw earlier, in the first scene, who talked to him for one second for some reason.  Sorry, forgot to mention that earlier.  Through some investigation, Kevin learns that the dead girl is the sister of the earlier girl, and that the earlier girl was kidnapped to work as a prosititue by the nefarious local madam, the contessa, before running away.  He takes the dead girl’s body to some random black guy who is apparently his personal M.E. (why are a black guy and a white guy being friends at this point – easy answer – war buddies), and whose wife is played by the actress who played Wallace’s love Jackie in the second season of Veronica Mars.  Black M.E. (now there’s a show title) tells us that she was raped, well, after death, so I suppose not technically rape, but you get the idea.  In addition, she was hit in the head with a blunt object.  Kevin pays the contessa a visit and beats up one of her doorman, a bulky dude, who Kevin is convinced kills the girl, because, well, he’s big, and why not?  Kevin beats the shit out of him, without a confession, but leaves him handcuffed in a room/torture chamber.

Kevin pays a return visit to Black M.E. who tells him, ah hah, it was a staff that did the damage, and the man had to be a certain height – taller than the guard who Kevin initially suspected.  Kevin feels slightly bad about the guy he just beat, but realizes where he saw a cane, at the home rich local plutocrat Mr. Haverford, who he immediately knows did it.  He steals the staff, as evidence, and then brings it to his superiors.  Of course, because this is America, where the rich, no matter when, buy their way out of criminal activity, his bosses arrange it so that the guard he originally beat was “guilty” and sentenced to death, settling the matter, even though everyone knows what really went down.  Justice!  Kevin is disgusted but powerless.  He settles down, hopefully having saved the girl’s sister (who they found later and hid from the scary plutocrat; sorry, forgot to mention that), for now, before at the end, he is confronted by Mrs. Haverford, who asks if her husband committed the crime.  He did, Kevin, tells her.

I wanted the show to be better than it was.  I have surprisingly little sense of what the show is from just the one episode.  If I had to guess, there will be a case every episode with slow advances on the personal lives of the two main coppers and the pursuit of evil plutocrat Mr. Haverford.  However, it could easily become a longer arc-ed show right off, which would almost certainly be the more interesting choice.   I think there’s a lot of very easy ways to make a show like this interesting (in this case, good) but I’m not all that confident that the show will trend in that direction based on what I got in the first episode.  From just one episode each, I think I’m a bit more interested in Hell on Wheels than Copper in terms of recent shows set in the second half of the 19th century.

Will I watch it again?  Maybe.  Actually, as fall starts, it immediately jumps behind a number of other shows.  I wanted to like it more than I did, as I said, but that’s the show’s fault as much as mine;  it definitely could have been more inspiring.  I was hoping for something more than what seems awful like a police procedural set 150 years in the past.  In an idle moment maybe I’ll try to sneak in a second episode to get a real batter sense for how the show is going to work, but if it ends up just being another single episode case, than that episode will probably be the last I watch.  More serial TV, please.

Spring 2012 Preview and Predictions: Cable (besides HBO)

6 Jan

(In order to meld the spirit of futile sports predictions with the high stakes world of the who-will-be-cancelled-first fall (now spring!) television season, I’ve set up a very simple system of predictions for how long new shows will last.  Each day, I’ll (I’m aware I switched between we and I) lay out a network’s new shows scheduled to debut in the fall (reality shows not included – I’m already going to fail miserably on scripted shows, I don’t need to tackle a whole other animal) with my prediction of which of three categories it will fall into.

These categories are:

1.  Renewal – show gets renewed

2.  13+ – the show gets thirteen or more episodes, but not renewed

3.  12- – the show is cancelled before 13

Spring note:  It’s a lot harder to analyze midseason shows as there’s no collective marketing campaigns going on at one time, as many of the shows start dates are spread (or are even unannounced for some)  Still, we’ll take partially educated guesses.  Also, they’re a lot less likely to get partial pick ups, so maybe that trade off will make it easier)

All other cable networks here.  USA and TNT are holding their new shows until the summer, so we’ve got entrants from BBC America, FX, Showtime, Starz and MTV.

BBC America

The Fades

The Fades has already aired in Britain but will be making its American debut this spring.  From a writer of Skins, The Fades is a supernatural show which revolves around the central concept that spirits of dead people who couldn’t get into heaven are all around us, known here as the titular Fades.  The main character Paul is a teenager who has apocalyptic dreams and the ability to see these Fades, an ability shared only by a select few, known as Angelics.  The Fades are bitter, and have slowly made progress in their attempt to have an impact in the real world, leading to a possible battle with the Angelics which Paul will be in the middle of.

Verdict:  Renewal – I shouldn’t really even have this category for imported shows – British shows generally air short runs anyway per season, six in this case, and it’s already aired months ago.  That said, there’s no official word, but as it’s been popular and well-reviewed across the pond this is just the smart money.

FX

Unsupervised – 1/19

Unsupervised is an animated series co-created by David Hornsby, best known as recurring character Rickety Cricket on FX hit It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  He also created and starred in the quickly cancelled How To Be A Gentlemen last fall on CBS.  Hornsby and Justin Long voice the main two characters, 15-year old best friends.  Kristen Bell, Romany Malco, Fred Armison, and Kaitlin Olson also have roles.

Verdict:  12- David Hornsby did not impress me with How To Be A Gentlemen, though FX has had a lot more success with quality comedies than CBS.  FX has a pretty good record overall, and there’s a clearly illustrious voice cast.  I’m really not sure why I’m skeptical, and hopefully it will be good, but it looks bad to me from the poster and I’m semi-arbitrarily voting against.

Showtime

House of Lies – 1/8

House of Lies is a comedy about the hilarious world of management consulting, starring Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell, and Ben Schwartz, best known as Parks and Recreation’s Jean-Ralphio.  Honestly, the first time I heard about this show, about management consultants working for clients around the world and doing whatever needs to be done to get the project finished and make money, I thought for sure it was a high intensity drama, especially since it was starring Don Cheadle, who is not exactly known for his comedic roles.  The fact that it’s a comedy floored me initially.

Verdict:  Renewal – don’t really know what to think, but Showtime, like HBO, which it desperately wants to be, likes to give shows second seasons if they do anything at all.

Starz

Spartacus: Vengeance – 1/27

This is kind of misleading.  I have no idea how to consider Starz’ continuing line up of Spartacus shows.  My normal inclination would just be to consider them different seasons of the same show, but Starz doesn’t exactly consider them that, and tragically the actor who played Spartacus died, so maybe that’s a factor.  Because Starz seems to, I’m going to treat it as a new show, though it’s clearly not.  A new actor takes on the Spartacus role and it’s filled with all the sex and violence that the Spartacus name has come to represent.

Verdict:  12- More cheating – so far each Spartacus has been treated as its own series, so it seems likely that if there’s another Spartacus, which there well may be, it will probably have a new name and thus be considered a new series.  I don’t really understand it, either.

MTV

I Just Want My Pants Back – 2/2

It’s about a twenty-something trying to figure out life, love, sex and work.  Could it possibly sound more generic?  The minor gimmick which gives the show its title is that the main character’s pants are stolen after a one-night stand and the character looks all over the city to find the pants and the girl who took them.  I’m guessing it won’t be good based on the fact that I don’t give a ton of credence to MTV original programming (I’m already too old to be the target audience, really) and most shows that sound like this are probably bad (even though the set up is so generic it could be any level of quality).

Verdict:  12- I have no idea what it takes for MTV to continue original series.  I must admit I’m mostly unfamiliar with MTV original series and don’t really have a beat on who watches them or what it would take to continue them.  This is nothing more than a guess in the dark.