Weekly Binge: Orphan Black
One of TV's most cultishly adored series, Orphan Black is back for season two on April 19. We give you what you need to know to jump into BBC America's paranoia-drenched sci-fi series.
What's the premise? Small-time grifter Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) discovers that she's one of a number of clones. While searching desperately for the others, Sarah finds herself pursued by sinister forces that may hold the key to her existence.
What's it like? Like the Bourne movies, Orphan Black features a protagonist who's frantically searching for the origin (and meaning) of her existence -- often under gloomy, overcast skies. Sarah (Tatiana Maslany), the main focus of the series, bears more than a passing resemblance to Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo -- she's a black-clad fringe-dweller and a skilled amateur sleuth who can adapt to even the most perilous situations.
Where can I see it? The second season premieres April 19 at 9 p.m. on BBC America. If you've got an Amazon Prime subscription, you can watch the first season for free; otherwise, it's available for purchase on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu and other digital platforms. You can also catch it on BBC America before season two premieres.
How long will it take? Season one is comprised of 10 episodes of 43 minutes apiece. Give yourself a week to get caught up.
What do the critics think? Season one was one of the best reviewed shows of 2013; it was Certified Fresh at 92 percent on the Tomatometer. Critics were impressed with the show's brisk pace and clever conceit -- as well as Maslany's astonishing central performance. "[Orphan Black] boasts terrific writing that's packed with plenty of twists and turns and merrily straddles genres, from cop drama to medical thriller to pure farce," raved Ethan Alter of Television Without Pity. " You can't give Maslany enough credit here," wrote Tim Goodman of the Hollywood Reporter. "This is a series that feels as confident as any you'll see on TV right now, and it has the added benefit of being a sci-fi show without much heavy sci-fi, broadening its appeal. The story moves quickly, is thrilling at every turn and has surprisingly solid acting on every level."
Why should I watch this? Two words: Tatiana Maslany. She's fantastic. Her assignment couldn't have been easy -- there are numerous scenes in which she's acting opposite several versions of herself -- and yet Maslany is able to make each of the clones so distinctive in personality and manner that there's never a question of who we're watching at a given time. Beyond the performances, what makes Orphan Black so compulsively watchable is that it takes an undeniably intriguing premise and lets it play out within a vividly plausible universe. It's a sci-fi show that never gets bogged down in minutiae; it's a drama that's often very funny; and it's atmospheric and stylish without ever losing sight of the human element.
What's my next step? If you're looking for a little more sci-fi in your speculative fiction, Battlestar Galactica is another show about identity and mysterious origins. If you seek another show featuring a strong female protagonist with a yen for disguise, Alias or Nikita will probably do the trick.
What do you like about Orphan Black? How would you explain it to a newbie? Get in on the conversation here.