While crime has always been one of the more popular genres when it comes to TV shows, other genres of shows have really taken off alongside their detective-driven cousins. Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have become huge parts of pop culture today and the golden age of cinematic superheroes – headlined by Marvel’s cinematic universe – has even begun to bleed into an already crowded arena of genre shows. In spite of this, it feels like it’s been too long since audiences have had a solid science fiction show.
Orphan Black debuted last year and while this year’s big science fiction series, Helix, has quickly fallen under the radar, Orphan Black continues to go from to strength. Playing out like the bastard child of J.J. Abram’s Alias and Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, Orphan Black follows Sarah Manning, a small time con-artist who finds herself in an compelling predicament after she witnesses her doppelganger commit suicide. Not one for petty moral standards, Sarah quickly assumes the identity of the woman, Beth, in order to drain her bank account. This cool premise quickly spins out of control as Sarah finds herself dragged into the complex web of intrigue and discovers that she and Beth were clones – and they aren’t alone.
Sarah’s other clones include Alison, a married housewife, and Cosima, a lesbian biologist and while each of these characters react differently to the discovery of their biology, they are all drawn together to survive when a serial killer begins hunting them down. Each of the clones is played by Tatiana Maslany and she does a phenomenal job here. Each episode sees her demonstrate a great range as an actress and the show often plays each clone off each other in smart and hilarious ways. It would be easy to lose track of who’s who and what’s what in a show with clones but Orphan Black is remarkably smart about clearly conveying just that to the audience.
Maslany may be the captain of this ship but the show’s supporting cast is undoubtedly one of its bigger assets. Jordan Gavaris does a standout job as Sarah’s foster-brother and Kevin Hanchard excels as Beth’s partner at the NYPD.
Although not as ambitious as its cable competitors when it comes to production, Orphan Black has a nice sharp look to it that reminded me a lot of Torchwood. As the series goes on, the web of intrigue surrounding the clones steadily develops into the series own mythology whilst also offering the series a unique brand of versatility.
Orphan Black embraces the freedom of its premise and variety of its cast to branch into and play off other genres. Some parts of the first season see Sarah take on the role of Beth and the show become more like a crime procedural. Later – as more clones get added to the mix – it becomes a Desperate Housewives suburban drama before ultimately transitioning back to the science fiction thriller that lies at the core of the series.
Orphan Black’s first season is a fun as hell ride and I can’t wait to see where future seasons lead. It’s an exciting science fiction thriller and that’s always got somewhere new to take you. It might lack the world-shattering impact of cable shows like The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones but if you’re looking for a throwback to fun exciting serialized science fiction series like Flashforward and Torchwood, Orphan Black is not worth overlooking.