You all know how obsessed I am with award shows. So when, among the Emmy talk, I heard in many places that an actress named Tatiana Maslany had been robbed of a nomination for her work on a sci-fi show called Orphan Black, I decided to check it out. This past weekend, I watched all ten episodes of Season 1 on On Demand.
And I discovered that those people were wrong. Tatiana Maslany does not deserve an Emmy nomination. She deserves at least six Emmy nominations. You see, she doesn’t just play one character- she plays several clones, and she does so extraordinarily well.
Let’s start from the beginning. In the pilot, Sarah Manning, a British-Canadian small-time crook who grew up in foster care, sees a woman in a train station who looks just like her. Seconds later, the woman has committed suicide by jumping in front of a train. Sarah wastes no time in snatching the woman’s purse. She discovers that the woman, Beth Childs, was a cop with $75,000 in the bank. Seeing an opportunity to start over with the young daughter from whom she’s been estranged, Sarah decides to impersonate Beth to get the money.
But things quickly get complicated when Sarah realizes that Beth isn’t the her only lookalike. There’s a German woman who’s shot to death soon after Sarah meets her. There’s an uptight soccer mom named Allison and a dreadlocked science geek named Cosima. There are others who have also turned up dead- and there’s one who might be a killer.
All of these women, of course, are clones. They’re unwilling participants in a science experiment, and now someone is killing them off. And I can’t say much more without giving too much away!
Tatiana Maslany. Seriously, I can’t say enough good things about her on this show. The clones are all distinguished by hairdos and clothes, but she gives them all distinct mannerisms and speech patterns that make them impossible to confuse. She also makes layered characters out of people who could easily just be “types.” I found myself forgetting that the same actress plays so many characters. There are even some points when the clones impersonate each other and you find yourself thinking, “Who’d ever buy that Allison is Sarah?...Oh, wait, they’re actually played by the same person.”
Sarah is the clone we get to know first, and there turns out to be a lot more to her than initially meets the eye. We first see her stealing Beth’s purse seconds after Beth’s gruesome suicide, but she becomes more and more interesting as we learn about her childhood as an orphan in foster care, her love for and struggle to reconnect with the daughter who’s being raised by the same foster mother Sarah grew up with, and her past with an abusive ex-boyfriend. But the clones aren’t the only characters to watch. My favorite non-clone is Sarah’s snarky but loyal foster brother Felix, who serves as her confidant and often lends a hand when she needs help with a crazy situation she’s found herself in.
It’s a drama, obviously- did I mention someone is trying to kill them?- but it can also be very funny. Allison, the kind of suburban mother who hosts weekly neighborhood potlucks and has a whole room for her crafts, can be hilarious when her prim facade starts to crack. And one kind of interesting thing is that people never need much time to adjust to the news about the clones- which, while it might not be the most realistic reaction, means that not a lot of time is wasted on exposition.
The funny thing is that aside from The X-Files, I’m not into sci-fi at all. But this show rocks, and you have plenty of time to get caught up before Season 2 premieres on BBC America in the spring!