Television drama has grown immensely in the past few years. We no longer have to rely on scheduled programming to consume the shows we watch. This is thanks to catch up services, live recording, streaming sites and both physical and digital box-sets. We can now skip a few weeks of scheduled television only to watch five hours of our favourite show in one sitting. It is really great…until you’re being nagged to watch about ten different things by your friends and family. After all, it is all available to you at any time.
So allow me to also nag, and state my case a show that might have just slipped under your radar; Canadian science-fiction series Orphan Black.
The show starts off with a troubled Sarah Manning, who sees the death of a woman (Elizabeth Childs) who looks exactly like her. Being the opportunist that she is, Sarah plots to steal her identity with the help of her foster brother, Felix. Her intention is to steal all of Elizabeth’s money, get her daughter Kira back and start afresh. As Sarah delves further and further into Beth’s identity, a whole Pandora’s box of questions emerge, especially about why they look the same. Her whole plan is put on hold as she uncovers more about who she is and learns about other people involved.
Orphan Black is one of those shows that you are better going into knowing as little as you can. I will not say much more on plot because of this. However, I will reveal some of the themes it explores. The main one is the issue of personal autonomy, in that a person has the right to govern their own body without that being violated by outside forces. Also, season two which has just finished, delves further into personal autonomy when it comes to reproduction. It is refreshing to see such themes explored as similar topics are coming up again and again in real life. On top of this, you have the always topical science versus religion conflicts. These are also heavily linked to the show’s look at bodily integrity.
It is not always so serious though. Some of my favourite parts of the show have been the more humorous scenes (watch out for “What’s in the box Donnie?”).
Special mention goes to Orphan Black for having a science-fiction show full of women. After all, there would be no science-fiction as we know it without Mary Shelley (your move fake nerd boys).
Again, I do not want to say very much. I may be shooting myself in the foot here but…Orphan Black has a cast of characters more varied than Glee. The major difference being, is that it works. No person is treated as a special snowflake for who they are. This results in a group of characters who are created as equals. I will use Sarah Manning’s foster brother Felix as an example. Felix is a gay man but his homosexuality is never his defining characteristic. We do see him with lovers but that is just another part of his life. I want to emphasise the idea of Felix’ “life “as he has one outside of his foster sister’s, and that is the mark of a full character. This outside life can be found in many of the other characters which makes each one so much more human to the viewer.
I also have to applaud the show on this as it is part of the science-fiction genre. Science-fiction has always been a vehicle to explore human themes outside of the norm, whether people do that is another thing. Orphan Black reminds me of a journal I read once about how housewives began to write science-fiction to tease out what it meant to be a mother and also what it meant to have a woman’s body. You can see this desire in Sarah Manning as she figures out what it means to be a mother to Kira. She also has to navigate her body’s ability to reproduce.
I cannot tell you how talented the cast of Orphan Black are. Tatiana Maslany gets much attention for her role and rightly so. After all, starts off the show playing Sarah Manning pretending to be Elizabeth Childs. I can assure you that she goes even deeper with character levels and it is incredible to watch. Felix’ actor, Jordan Gavaris, has done incredible work with his character also. Gavaris stole many scenes as Felix in season two as he was given some heavier material. I have to also mention Maria Doyle Kennedy who has played her role as Mrs. S in the coolest way possible, giving us the most bad-ass foster mother on television. Then there’s Kevin Hanchard, Evelyne Brochu, Skyler Wexler, Kristian Bruun, Dylan Bruce, Michael Mando…just everyone.
At only ten episodes per season and only two seasons available, it is definitely worth looking into. The show is full to the brim with twists and turns, humour and intrigue. There is a whole host of characters for you to fall in love with and a whole lot more for you to try to make up your mind about. You will never know everything while watching the show (even if you think you do) and that makes it all the better.
You can currently catch season two on BBC iPlayer but I cannot imagine trying to piece things together without season one. The first season is available on the BBC Shop here or on Amazon here. There are more options to watch here as provided by BBC America.