As many of you already know, Orphan Black is a TV show broadcast on BBC America that is currently in its second season. To put it very simply, it revolves around a group of women who find out that they are clones and the many difficulties that this realization presents. Here are five elements of the show that not only demonstrate its importance, but also show that it is amazingly good television in its own right. I will do my best to make this piece spoiler-free.
She is the unquestioned star of the series, playing all of the clones. Her talent is such that each character is so distinct that it is often difficult to remember that they are all played by the same woman. She gives each character an amazing level of depth, individuality, and humanity. Even when the characters make similar gestures, she manages to create subtle variations from character to character flawlessly. Tatiana Maslany is amazingly talented — she even manages to have different chemistry with the other actors, who are all incredible, depending on which role she is playing. Not only that, but the clones often impersonate each other, which again, she performs flawlessly and hilariously. This brings me to point number two:
The clones all interact with each other; they hug, fight, and high-five. Numerous clones are often seen in the same room together. The editing by Brett Sullivan, Gillian Truster, Stephen Lawrence, and Jay Prychidny, and the cinematography by Aaron Morton is paired beautifully with the amazing performances by Maslany, creating a seamless and totally transformative piece. The talent involved makes you forget it’s a television show on BBC America — it is filmed and edited better than a number of films out there.
This show subverts traditional gender roles in television; use of female characters makes it exceptional. Graeme Manson and John Fawcett have created a world where the central roles are unquestionably the women, and do it with such ease that it’s impossible to question. It doesn’t even matter that most of the women are played by the same actress, especially since she so completely envelops each character with their own distinct traits, and because they occupy all the important roles in the show. The clones are protagonists and antagonists, the supporting roles, and the entire driving force. This is not said to diminish the quality of the other actors’ abilities. Every person involved in the show is supremely talented. Orphan Black is incredible because it normalizes the extraordinary.
Skillfully managing complicated topics
Discussions of humanity are often masked in science fiction, and Orphan Black is no exception. The discussions of homosexuality, transgender people, the effects of wealth and family on a person’s development, as well as identity in what it means to be human — all difficult subjects — are executed with grace and poise. There is definitely a contrast between old science fiction tropes and new subject matter, making it more applicable to the modern context of our world that could never have been dreamt of in the science fiction of old. Nothing is black and white in the real world, and Orphan Black effortlessly represents a world that is easy to believe could be our own fully dimensional universe within the story.
The show is funded in part by and broadcasted on BBC America, and thus has a universal appeal, since the BBC is so vastly intercontinental. The subject matter is relevant to target audiences across the globe, especially as its subject matter relates heavily to “The German” or “The Russian” as distinctions between the clones early on in the series. It has created a very passionate fan following on social media. Both the showrunners and the actors are aware of this and, grateful for the attention, all interact with the fans via Twitter and Tumblr, primarily. This further humanizes the show, making it more approachable. The actors often live tweet the episodes as they air, and they always do their best to acknowledge everyone who tweets them. The Clone Club is a positive fan community where people from all different demographics are able to feel representation.
Orphan Black is a truly inspirational television program. I strongly encourage anyone and everyone to watch it, because more likely than not, you will find yourself represented in some way within the program, and that is hugely important to the growth of the medium.