Tag Archives: Orphan Black

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2015 Edition: 54-51

21 Mar

Our first comedy of the rankings shows up along with three cable dramas that only have the potential of conspiracy in common.

Intro here and 58-55 here.

54. True Detective – 2014: 21

True Detective

Thousands of words have been spilled over the disappointing second season of True Detective, some by me, and I’m not sure I have more to add; one-dimensional characters, frustrating plot choices, and misguided casting, let to a somewhat sad season of television. It’s not lower than this because it was strangely ambitious in a way other bad shows aren’t; Flash and Arrow failed on a lower percentage of what they tried, but True Detective tried way more. There was something interesting enough in the failure of True Detective to probably ensure I’d watch another season, but that doesn’t make it a success. Recently, this past season of True Detective made me think of the Star Wars prequels; unquestionably failures, but, especially compared to The Force Awakens, surprisingly ambitious failures which actually really went for it.

53. Community – 2014: 10


The Yahoo! Screen (and points if you remember that Yahoo!’s short-lived video service was called Yahoo! Screen) season of Community really made me sad. It’s fair to say I had no right to be disappointed by the season, consider how up-and-down Community has been over the years, and considering the turmoil behind-the-scenes including the cast changes and the new network. Still, it was one of the more disappointing seasons of TV I can remember considering what a special place Community has held in my heart at times, and considering this was going to be its likely last impression (unless they actually get around to that movie). There were fleeting glimpses of what made Community great; but they were gobbled up by so much mediocrity, poor choices, reused plots, unbalanced character usage, overdone jokes and just a seeming running out of ideas. The fifth season, upon reflection, I found to be better than I had believed initially; with the sixth, it’s sadly the opposite. There’s way too much Dean, a side character elevated to a larger role than his character could handle, and again just rehashing and overusing what worked well when done subtly and in moderation. Quite simply, the magic was gone.

52. Orphan Black – 2014: 25

Orphan Black

Orphan Black post-Season 1 is a bit of a mess rendered worth viewing simply due to the powers of Tatiana Maslany. The plot was clearly put together with only one season in mind and since then there have had to be incomprehensible secret organization on top of incomprehensible secret organization on top of incomprehensible secret organization to prevent the Clone Club from finding all the answers, past the point where it makes all that much sense. Fortunately through for Orphan Black, the show has a sense of humor, which many shows in this tier (see: House of Cards, AMC’s The Walking Dead) lack, especially in regards to the generally enjoyable Alison plotlines. Orphan Black is hardly appointment television; but I don’t think I’ll be giving it up just yet because I like the clones enough to eventually catch up, even if that means on a lazy Saturday weeks after the episodes have aired.

51. AMC’s The Walking Dead – 2014: 34

The Walking Dead

I’m in a strange place with AMC’s The Walking Dead. Objectively, this has been one of, if not the single strongest year in the show’s existence. It’s hardly spectacular; but the year is notable more for the absence of the bigger problems that plagued swaths of AMC’s The Walking Dead past; glacial pacing, bringing the Governor back well past his due date, focus on the wrong characters, young Carl. AMC’s The Walking Dead has never been a great show but it’s had spurts of promise that have always, until now, kept me watching, and on paper, this past year would certainly appear to be composed largely of such spurts. Subjectively though, while I recognize the show is actually in a fairly solid place, for whatever it’s worth, I simply seem to have a case of AMC’s The Walking Dead fatigue. I’m just tired of the show. The novelty and the fun have worn on me, and while the plot changes, I’ve felt some sense of sameness that has been grating on me over the seasons. Several times in the past couple of months I planned to put on an episode, just to realize I really didn’t want to watch one. Will I ever get back to it, or will I simply fade away from the show? Tune into next year’s rankings to find out.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2014 Edition: 27-24

20 Feb

Onwards to 27-24. Two shows coming off a rest year, one drama in its last season, and one sci-fi drama.

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here and 35-32 here and 31-28 here.

27. Louie – 2013: Not eligible


Louie took me a long while to really sink firstmy teeth into, longer than most. By the end of the two seasons, I more or less recognized its general excellence and groundbreaking features even while I would never quite have ranked it as highly as many TV fans and critics. Still, Louie, by refusing to confine to TV norms, has continued to put out an excellent product. Louie, understandably, took off a year between the third and fourth seasons to take the time to come up with new ideas. Unfortunately, in this past fourth season, the show made its first prolonged missteps. There were strong moments to be found; the mini-movie, “In the Woods” which harkened back to Louie’s childhood was charming, sweet, and affecting, if not groundbreaking, and the episode in which Louie dated an overweight woman, portrayed by Sarah Baker, set the internet afire, stroking up worthy conversations which didn’t necessarily have obvious answers. The second half of the season, though, the Pamela episodes in particular, stopped being charming and instead because occasionally troubling, sometimes unfunny, and for once, what Louie never was: TV. At its absolute worst was a scene in which Louie clearly sexually assaulted Pamela, which the show didn’t seem to get, but that troubling scene aside, dating Pamela brought out Louie’s worst wish-fulfillment wanting-to-love-being-in-love qualities, with Pamela as the demonic manic pixie dream girl. If the show used this to continue to show how poor a match Pamela and Louie were, this would be understandable, but it seemed to keep trying to bring them together against the objections of sense and logic.  Louie has earned enough leeway to continue to be must-see television, but last season it seemed to finally lose a little steam.

26. Sons of Anarchy – 2013: 29

Sons of Anarchy

A member of FX’s breakthrough generation of dramas, alongside Justified, Sons of Anarchy’s last season was fairly emblematic with its entire run, filled with strong points, continually struggling to figure out who its best antagonists are, and dropping the ball occasionally in critical situations. About half of the episodes were really strong and packed with plot which really brought the season into motion, with a powerful sense of forward momentum. The other half felt like filler episodes indicating there was enough plot movement for an 8 episode final season stuffed into 13 episodes. The penultimate episode was the true finale; momentous and moving, though many of the plot developments which occurred had become inevitable, they still packed weight. The actually finale was not bad as much as anticlimactic; everything had been determined the episode before and there were no surprises. The show successfully developed a second wave of strong secondary characters like Wendy and Nero in the second half of the show’s run which led to a late renaissance, but the unrelenting meaningless cycles of violence and two gangs squaring against the others while Sons utter “no more bloodshed” could get tiring and repetitive. Sons of Anarchy’s place in the TV canon may take time to settle, but for now, I’m putting it firmly in the grade B second tier, with shows like Dexter and Battlestar Galactica.

25. Orphan Black – 2013: 20

Orphan Black

I’m going to come right out and say what anybody watching both seasons of Orphan Black is thinking. Orphan Black’s plot is pretty stupid. At best, it feels like a giant MacGuffin for the character interaction between clones which is the beating heart of the show, whuile at worst, it feels like a stuttered descent into science fiction nonsense. The creators have no real plot goal, and simply must dig a deeper and more techno-bio-babble ditch every season to keep going. Why do I keep watching and why is it not ranked lower? Well, in short, Tatiana Maslany, who does an acting job unlike any other in TV. She’s brilliant as every clone and most of the best and most important characters, and when the show is on, it’s extremely fun to watch. Like watching 24 at its best, the lack of ongoing plot coherence matters less because you’re enjoying yourself in the here-and-now. Alison is the obvious hilarious highlight character, but Maslany is a delight whenever on screen, even when just about nothing makes sense around her. Her banter with Felix is a treat, as he is the one non-Maslany character worth caring about in the entire show. Orphan Black definitely risks going off a cliff if it sucks the fun out with meaningless plot, which it hinted out at the end of the last season, but I still believe there’s a path there for its success.

24. Sherlock – 2013: Not eligible


Sherlock is another show, like Orphan Black above, that hinges on the delightful and joyous interaction between the primary characters. Sherlock’s third season was overall not as strong as either of the first two, but the obvious chemistry between Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and Martin Freeman’s Watson make the show fun even when the plot isn’t, as in the third episode, which promises big things, only to be somewhat disappointing and anticlimactic. Unlike the first two seasons, whose middle episodes were their respective seasons’ weakest, the middle here is the clear winner, as it places even more emphasis than usual on the comedy of the Sherlock-Watson interaction, with the two going on a bachelor party (or stag night, as the Brits call it) for John, bonding, and making wonderful idiots out of themselves. The plotting was not as tight as the first two seasons, but because of Freeman and Cumberbatch if nothing else, I’ll continue to watch Sherlock as long as they make it.

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.

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.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2013 Edition: 20-17

27 Jan

It seems like we’ve just started but we’re more than halfway there. Two hour longs, and then two half hour comedies in this edition, 20-17.

20. Orphan Black

Orphan Black

There’s a lot to like about Orphan Black, but there’s really one thing first and foremost. That’s actress Tatiana Maslany, who owns the show in a way few other lead actors and actresses can own the television shows they star in, largely because she plays not just the main character, but several other characters, ranging from major characters to fairly small roles. She is fantastically wonderful and makes the show work in a way that very few actors or actresses could. She’s so expert at her portrayal of different people that when watching, I, just for a moment, questioned whether it really was the same actress, so different were the looks, voices, and expressions, of each character. So beyond that, Orphan Black is a sci-fi show about a crazy conspiracy involving secret clones; it’s the kind of storyline that makes a little less sense the more you think about it, but in this case, just don’t, and you’re bound to enjoy the roller coaster ride – unlike say, a Lost, Orphan Black doesn’t feel bloated with the weight of its own pretension. It’s just fun.

19. Orange is the New Black

Orange;New Black

The secret is out by now: While House of Cards initially draw attention to Netflix original series, and not without reason, Orange is the New Black is sneakily the better show.  No show features more pathos for people typically overlooked in television. In most of the TV and movies we’ve watched, the people in jail are the bad guys, or they’re actually innocent and there unjustly; Orange is the New Black attempts to demonstrate that they may be there for a reason, but that doesn’t make them the bad guys (well, girls, but bad girls conjures up a whole set of images) at all. The backbome of the success of Orange is the New Black is the perfect combination of humor and drama; without the humor, the drama would feel overbearing and occasionally too on the nose, while the drama contextualizes the humor and adds heft making Orange is the New Black more than just a wacky prison show. Orange is the New Black loves its characters (well, except the guards, one of my few major complaints) and it comes through in a big way, making us love its characters as well.

18. Archer


It’s a strong time for animated half hour programs, and Archer is one of the strongest. The members of a freelance secret agency Isis, Archer, the best secret agent they have, is a giant asshole, and son of the agency head who is a drunken asshole herself, who also happens to be occasionally cavorting with the head of the KGB. Of course, everyone in this show is an asshole, and half of the characters are idiots, and while that would probably not be a successful formula for a particularly enjoyable drama, it makes for great comedy. Layered within Archer by last year’s fourth season are a dense array of repeated inside jokes – so much so that every Archer fan has a particular favorite, mine is probably Archer’s yelling of “phrasing” every time someone says something that could be interpreted in a more awkward and innuendo-filled way. All said, this wasn’t its strongest season, and was weaker than the genius season three, which is why its dropped a little bit lower than last year. Archer sometimes runs the risk of going over the same schtick too many times, and while it hasn’t gone over it so many times it’s tired, it did last season just enough to make it a little bit inferior to the season before. Still, it’s one of the best comedies on TV and last year featured strong episodes as well; the condemnation is merely relative.

17. Arrested Development

The Bluths and co.

Insane hype and eager anticipation for the long-awaited Arrested Development reunion quickly turned to polarization as many of the uber-fans of the original came away disappointed with the new product. I may have been in that camp to start, but by the time I finished, I was firmly a champion of the fourth season. Those expecting a repeat of the first three seasons are bound to be disappointed, and I understand why; that was great, and this isn’t that. What this is though, is something no comedy, and really no television show has managed to do before, something literally unprecedented which is incredibly rare in TV even with all the great shows on now. The season is 15 episodes meant to be taken as a whole; rather than simply serial they’re overlapping, returning to the same events over and over again through different characters, with later renditions of similar events adding layers of humorous meaning. It’s for this reason precisely that I beg viewers of the fourth season not to grow discouraged in the first couple of episodes, the meanings deepen, and jokes come back again three and four times in new ways, meaning the last few episodes are funnier than the first few, but the groundwork laid early was essential for the show to work late. It’s not perfect by any means, but that’s sometimes the price of great ambition. There’s something to be said for dreaming lower and reaching that ceiling, but there are few shows that dreamed as big as Arrested Development’s fourth season, and for getting astonishing close to reaching that ambition even if it fell short, it should be applauded.

End of Season Report: Orphan Black, Season 1

2 Sep

Many Orphans, All White

I like deep and meaningful television shows.  I do.  My favorite shows on TV are wrapped twice over in complicated themes that resonate powerfully and lovingly drawn characters with strong emotional cores, shows like Game of Thrones, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad.  Orphan Black is not that.  That’s not to say it’s dumb by any means or unworthy of a modicum of thought; it’s not, and it is.  But you don’t watch Orphan Black and ponder on it in the same way that those shows (and those are the very best on TV, so it’s hardly insulting to be compared unfavorably to them anyway) stick in your head for hours after you finish an episode (Rectify is a new show that fits this profile).  Orphan Black, you watch because, well, it’s a damn fun ride.  You may not want to ruminate too long on the plot or the characters, but when you finish an episode you find yourself immediately throwing on the next one.

I’m required to start my qualitative take on this season, as any article about Orphan Black does and should, by piling accolades upon Tatiana Maslany, who plays main character Sarah Manning along with a bajillion different clones of all shapes and sizes (I think she plays six of them for at least a moment, but I could be missing someone, and yes, technically I suppose they’re all the same size, but I’m trying to make a point).  She does a phenomenal job of portraying not just different accents but plays different looks and expressions and demeanor so well that even though it’s obviously the same actress playing these roles, sometimes I forget and temporarily think they are just two actresses who look really similar.  More than in nearly any other show, or nearly any other main character, Maslany is the foundation of the show and makes the show go, there aren’t many shows where the star quite literally plays multiple characters.

Jordan Gavaris is the other standout cast member, as Sarah’s foster brother and best mate Felix.  He provides the most constant source of comic relief during the series, and his wit is on point, often deflating otherwise serious situations.  His chemistry with Tatiana is outstanding, both during her performances as primary clone Sarah as well as with her other characters (Alison, primarily).  Orphan Black succeeds because it’s fun; a dreary and over serious Orphan Black wouldn’t work, and Gavaris does the heavy lifting in preventing it from getting there.

This is particularly so when the other main cast members, all of whom are fairly peripheral characters, don’t really add a lot.  Dylan Bruce plays charisma-less hunk Paul, who was in a relationship with clone Beth and now takes up with Sarah, while formerly but no longer working for the evil clone corporation.  Kevin Hanchard is dead clone Beth’s police partner, and he’s, well, he’s fine, and he has more charisma than Bruce, but don’t take that as more than it is because it’s an incredibly low bar.  Michael Mando is slightly more amusing as the mentally unstable drug addled former beau of Sarah (what the fuck she was doing with this guy is never satisfactorily resolved – he shows not one redeeming quality in his sporadic appearances in Orphan Black where his only role is as antagonist gumming up the plot).  Maria Doyle Kennedy plays Mrs. S, Sarah and Felix’s foster mom, who has been caring for Sarah’s daughter Kira, and who is stern but caring, and one of the only secondary characters who gets a chance to show a little bit of pathos in the course of the season. And don’t worry if you don’t recognize these actors’ names; they’re largely Canadian; amazingly just about nobody in the cast is even remotely famous from anything else that an American might know.

So, the side characters by and large aren’t the best.  But that’s okay.  Orphan Black is a roller coaster ride, complete with twists and turns as Sarah and soon her clone buddies Alison and Cosima investigate and learn about a shady underground cloning project they were part of.  It gets seriously conspiratorial but never takes on the super-heavy all encompassing tone that BIG sci-fi shows (Lost, of course the most prominent example, but Heroes, Revolution, Under the Dome) tend to take on.  The plot is important, sure, and there are questions – where did they come from – but there’s no BIG deep premise question which could cause the show to implode upon itself.  The show is more action sci-fi than drama, and it keeps the suspense up and the high-brow stuffiness out.

I’ll admit that if you think too much about the plot it comes apart in lots of little ways, and it relies on a whole series of exceptionally unlikely circumstances happening.  These are points that would likely annoy me if I wasn’t having such a good time watching the show.  If the plot of Lost didn’t work (and it didn’t), I would be (and was) devastated because I spent so much time trying to piece everything together and it didn’t work out.  I didn’t think for a second after watching an Orphan Black episode about where everything fits into place.  Every little plot element might not exactly work together, and sure, it should, but I enjoyed it in the moment in a way I couldn’t enjoy Lost because Lost was buried so deep under its own expectations.

My biggest concern is that Orphan Black is not built for too many seasons. I’m not sure how much plot the writers thought out ahead of time, and while, as mentioned above, it doesn’t have to be sewn together tightly to work, it does have to make a minimum of sense and keep the excitement levels up.  Extending the plot line runs the risk of either artificially stretching it out or making it overly complicated.  I want more Orphan Black; I don’t want a show that’s like Revolution or Under the Dome.  I want a bunch of clones acting in ridiculous ways, and conspiring with one another to infiltrate some vaguely evil corporation.  I don’t want to greater lessons about mankind.

Spring 2013 Review: Orphan Black

2 Aug


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.