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Binge TV: Try ‘Orphan Black’

I love stories about tough young women in heavy black eyeliner with a grudge against the world.

I really love vaguely possible science fiction. I really, really love conspiracy theories.

Orphan Black had all that and more, and I knew I’d end up obsessed, so I tried to ignore it.

Until one rainy Saturday I had a cold and was stuck at home alone. The show’s first six or seven episodes had already aired on BBC America. Lucky for me, I have cable on demand.

I started with the pilot episode around 1 p.m. The sun came out. The sun set.

In the first episode, Sarah Manning, the main character and a grungy looking punk, returns to Toronto after ditching her scam artist boyfriend in New York.

At the train station, she sees a woman crying on the other end of the platform.

The woman takes off her shoes, puts down her purse and folds her suit jacket on top of it while Sarah walks over to talk to her.

The woman turns around. She looks exactly like Sarah.

They lock eyes. The woman jumps in front of the coming train.

Tell me you wouldn’t have gotten hooked, too.

Sarah steals the woman’s purse and keys – hello, shiny new Jaguar – heads to her posh apartment and plans to clean out the woman’s bank accounts so she can start a new life some place else with her daughter.

She gets tangled in a conspiracy about why she and Beth look alike. Another identical shows up, and is almost immediately shot by a sniper while she sits in the backseat of the Jag.

Thirty years after in vitro fertilization became possible and 18 years after Dolly the sheep, it’s not hard to let yourself believe in the world the show offers. It delicately toys with the ideas of identity, ethics, reality and trust.

I devoured the available episodes that day, in time to watch the new one that night.

Then began the interminably long wait for the next Saturday night.

The show is fast paced, but not dizzying. As much as I’ve told you here, I haven’t spoiled a minute beyond the first episode.

It’s full of crazy tangents, a bit of sci-fi and a dash of philosophy. Sarah’s foster brother Felix, an artist/call-boy/drug dealer, provides frequent and delightful comic relief with his wry observations of how absurd the entire situation is.

Their world is fully realized and the writers provide glimpses of the complete history layered underneath the current story.

But the show is driven by the identicals and their search for or struggle against the truth, including Sarah, who quickly earns your support with her smarts, wiles and grit. In the age of the great television renaissance and its anti-heros, she’s the perfect heroine.

Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany delivers a virtuosa performance as all seven identicals; she won a Canadian Screen Award and was nominated for the Golden Globe.

I remember being amazed at the show being able to make the seven characters look so similar. Then I remembered “they” are all the same person.

Even watching trailers for the second season, I love noticing how Maslany makes each woman unique.

The way one purses her mouth. The way another cocks her head. The way Sarah walks. She endows each of them with a full personality, down to individual movements and expressions acquired over their unique lives.

The best thing about On Demand? I can rewatch the show at a more reasonable rate as I endure the (really, truly, I mean it this time) interminable wait for Season Two.

Which starts April 19. So you still have time to catch up, if you hurry.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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