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Friday, 20 September 2013

BBCAmerica's Orphan Black surprises on BBC Three


We’re used to sending successful shows, created right here in Blighty, across the Pond to our American cousins, where they either refashion them in their own image (and mangle them), die a death or go down a storm. Orphan Black with its sci-fi roots firmly planted in Darwinism (each episode title comes from his pioneering work On the Origin of Species) upsets the natural order of things by being a BBC America drama - albeit filmed in Toronto - that is making its way over to our shores.

American viewers have been raving about it too, and fans were aghast that leading lady Tatiana Maslany was snubbed for an Emmy nomination - especially after she’s cleaned up elsewhere. On the strength of just the opening episode, it’s hard to say whether she deserved the accolade, but the series has already run its course in the US, hence the outcry.

The curtain goes up on the drama as grungy-looking and broke young woman Sarah (Maslany), back in town to get her hands on her daughter, witnesses the suicide of a smartly dressed lady at a railway station. What really puts the wind up Sarah is the fact the woman looks EXACTLY like her. Without thinking, she grabs the victim’s bag and scurries off, convinced there will be enough money in it to solve her current financial worries.

Unfortunately it creates more problems than it solves, as she explores her doppelganger Beth’s apartment and makes herself at home. She calls on foster brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris) to help as she concocts a scheme to use the unfortunate woman’s life to sort out her own, but more trouble lies in store as Sarah discovers - to her horror - that not only is she a cop, but she’s been suspended after shooting a civilian. The web of lies becomes even more tangled and twisted when the real Beth’s boyfriend returns home unexpectedly, before another woman, who is also the spitting image of Sarah, ends up getting shot in the back of her car. Confused much?

The plotline whips back and forth energetically, with Sarah at its centre, by turns confused and resolute, desperate and curious. Maslany pulls it off - including switching between British and American accents - with aplomb, without resorting to histrionics or overplaying, making her alter ego a fascinating one to watch. But she’s not alone. Gavaris’ Felix is absolutely delightful. Camp and cool, he’s all mischief and twinkling, knowing glances. His witty asides and cutting remarks bring an acidity to the show which cuts the tension beautifully, allowing the drama to build and fall over and over again. The interplay between him and Sarah is lovely, and left me longing to know more about their obvious shared history, and how they ended up where they were.

Orphan Black is, at first glance, gripping telly: pacy, bristling with suspense and pregnant with promise. Here’s hoping the Yanks are right and it really is worth all the fuss and chatter about it on the interweb.

Contributed by Scheenagh Harrington

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