‘Orphan Black’ a fine thriller

orphan black characters

In this day of online spoilers and instant reviews via Twitter or other social media, it’s rare that the world – and the geek world in particular – catches on to a new TV show only gradually. But that’s what happened with “Orphan Black.”

The U.S.-Canadian series aired the first of its 10-episode season on BBC America at the end of March. I’d heard good things about it, but with so many high quality cable series going on right now – “Mad Men” was still airing, as was “Justified” I believe – I thought I would have to catch up on it later. Only so many hours in the day and all that.

The buzz on the drama was consistent, however, and I’ve been working through the series since early spring.

And I’m happy to say the buzz was right on the money. The show is good and the star, Tatiana Maslany, is great.

If you haven’t heard – or been watching – by now, the series by Graeme Manson and John Fawcett focuses on Sarah Manning (Maslany), a woman living on the ragged edge of legality with her foster brother, Felix (wonderful Jordan Gavaris). Sarah’s young daughter. Kira, lives with Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy), Sarah and Felix’s foster mom.

Sarah’s disreputable side of life existence goes down the rabbit hole one day in the subway when she is horrified to see a woman commit suicide by walking off the platform in front of a train. What’s possibly more horrifying: The woman, a police detective named Beth, was a dead ringer for Sarah.

Sarah takes the dead woman’s purse and begins investigating her lookalike with an eye toward impersonating her long enough to clean out her bank account. This necessitates some hot kitchen counter sex with Beth’s boyfriend, Paul (Dylan Bruce) and encounters with Beth’s cop partner, dogged Art Bell (Kevin Hanchard).

Before long, though, Sarah (posing as Beth) discovers she had more than one lookalike. She meets Alison, a tightly wound suburban mom, Cosima, a free-spirited grad student, and – most terrifyingly – Helena, who seems to be an assassin.

As Sarah, aided by Alison and Cosima – and snarky Felix – investigate the mystery of their existence, they discover they’re clones, created and sent out into society with “monitors” – sometimes referred as “watchers,” which made me think of “Buffy” – who keep track of this twisted laboratory experiment.

As they try to avoid exposure by the police, assaults by Helena and the manipulations of the monitors, the “orphan” clones try to get to the central mystery of their lives: Why are they here?

Maslany has received a lot of entirely justified praise for her performance as the clones. Often acting opposite herself – composited later via special effects – Maslany brings ample personality to each: Tough and streetwise Beth, refined soccer mom Alison, smart and vulnerable Cosima, menacing Helena and others with smaller roles.

Like Maslany, the supporting cast – which includes Matt Frewer as a doctor and author with a role in the mystery – is really topnotch. Like “Lost Girl” – which I really enjoyed but found kind of repetitive – and “The Fades,” “Orphan Black is a next-generation version of “Buffy” with its core character – characters, in this case – of a strong young woman fighting to find answers to her own questions.

A second season of “Orphan Black” is coming in April 2014, but you’ve got time to catch up online, on demand or on disc. It’s a fun, often funny, often poignant thriller.

 

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