Perfect shows didn’t exist until ‘Orphan Black’

As someone who likes but is not particularly good at science, I like to live vicariously through my scientific-minded friends who can tell me all about their lab research and experimental designs.

To pay them back for their patience, I like to introduce said science-y friends to the world of “Orphan Black,” a BBC America show starring Tatiana Maslany as a woman who grew up orphaned and later finds out she was born out of an illegal cloning experiment — and that she has at least a dozen sister-clones she never knew about, one of whom is trying to kill her.

If it sounds crazy, that’s because it is. But what makes the show work is that it can cram more character development, wit and heart into the first 10 episodes than many shows see throughout their duration.

 

 

“Orphan Black” season two premiered April 19. I don’t have cable, so I turned to the iTunes store for the first time in eons and actually paid $2.99 for the episode — it was worth every penny.

“Orphan Black” straddles the lines between comedy, action-adventure and sci-fi, with a tiny bit of romance. It’s sci-fi for people who don’t like sci-fi. It also does a great job of representing different ethnicities, sexualities and religious identities in nuanced ways, never settling for the cheap laugh or the stereotype but always pushing the envelope.

It even delves into the ethical and financial quandaries that surround the controversial science of cloning. Can genetic material in the form of living, breathing human beings be patented? Does a cloning experiment require its subjects and products to give active consent? What does a scientist owe to the person who is both the subject and product of their experiment?

These are the questions we usually find ourselves wincing away from answering, but the writers of “Orphan Black” seem intent on creating a cautionary tale that explores the consequences of human cloning and also serves to show off Maslany’s epic talent.

Like any suspenseful action-adventure, “Orphan Black” relishes the cliffhanger. That’s how they get you. It seems to be an ordinary police procedural until all of a sudden you’re thrown into the mystery and the police are just as puzzled. Sarah, the main protagonist, often finds herself on the run until she finds herself turning to her fellow clones (all played by Maslany): Alison, the uptight Yuppie soccer mom, and Cosima, the bisexual stoner biology student.

While the clones fight against the shadowy corporation supporting the experiment and against the extremist group trying to kill the clones off, they also find themselves struggling to assert their own identities and biology.

Forget about your crappy network sitcoms and your soapy primetime dramas. You should be watching “Orphan Black.”

Welcome to the trip.

Reach the columnist at skthoma4@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @savannahkthomas

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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