Deeply watchable. That’s what I have to say about Orphan Black.
I should amend that: deeply watchable and a bit confusing. You could easily argue that those are both understatements.
Please bear in mind that this is strictly from the point of view of having watched the first episode, but I’m very excited to watch the rest of the show now. Let me tell you more.
Why is the show confusing? Well, presumably you’re aware of the premise: our protagonist is one of a number of very similar looking women. It’s confusing to see one other person who looks just like you, let alone more than one. Because Orphan Black does an excellent job of showing rather than telling, we have the good fortune of being just as confused as our protagonists; the show doesn’t pull any punches or make anything less confusing for us than it already is for its characters. The show opens with Sarah Manning’s discovery that she’s not as special a snowflake as she thought she was, without any real introduction of Sarah herself. This means that we’re left gleaning details about Sarah’s life from the show’s background, even as we watch Sarah try to piece together what she can about the other people who look exactly like her (well, identical plus or minus a change of wardrobe and hair stylist).
Perhaps because of this confusion, thus far I sympathize with (and enjoy) Jordan Gavaris‘ Felix Dawkins more than I sympathize with or enjoy our ostensible protagonist, Sarah. Felix is rather flamboyantly watchable, but more importantly he feels like a relative island of stability and certainty in comparison to Tatiana Maslany‘s chameleon-like Sarah Manning. I think that will shift somewhat as I get a better idea of who Sarah is and what she’s caught in the middle of, but for now I’m quite happy to empathize from afar.
This particular brand of confusion has a number of close relatives in other conspiracy-TV fare; we’re given a rapidly growing puzzle and not enough pieces to finish it, complete with mysterious backgrounds and strange people in unmarked cars. I quite honestly lack enough experience with the genre to be able to tell you how typical (or not) this show is, but based on the way that they’ve presented everything thus far I feel like they’ve got a good handle on their story. I do hope that they don’t let the growing puzzle get away from them and end up with contradictory or unsatisfying pieces.
Another worthy note: the show does an excellent job of avoiding the straight-white-male trap (I’m looking at you, Hollywood). As previously mentioned, the lead is a lady; not only that, there are already non-white and non-straight characters who look set to play important roles in the rest of the series. I’m glad that Orphan Black is offering up an example of not only doing things differently but also doing them well.
I suppose I should get around to mentioning why I think the show is watchable, in case my general enthusiasm wasn’t enough for you. For one thing, I actually rather like all the characters. Not like like, you know, but approve of more or less. They feel like people who actually want things and are doing their best to get them, rather than convenient screens put up in place of a person for the sake of the script. Sometimes you never get past those screens, in a show or in a movie, but Orphan Black thus far has me convinced.
It doesn’t hurt that Tatiana Maslany does a great job of acting with herself on screen (yes, I mean that she makes up all the people in some of the scenes… I expect that this will continue, and I expect that I will continue to enjoy it). I’m looking forward to learning more about why there are multiple versions of her running around, and seeing what Sarah will have to do in order to keep herself safe. There’s something almost ticklish about all the little details that they’ve seeded the story with thus far, and I can already feel the compulsive appeal of wanting to see those details unearthed and examined in greater detail.
You know what? I think I’ll cut it there. I think I’ve managed to avoid any real spoilers thus far, and I don’t want to change that now. I simply don’t know enough about the series for more than idle speculation about where things will go, and I’d rather not make a fool of myself just now.
So, if you’ve been considering watching the show, treat yourself to the first episode. I suspect you’ll want to watch more, just like I do.