Orphan Black - 1.01-02 - Preview

It's time we had some new decent US drama shows in our lives, so many are dying out. Happily, tonight BBC Three start Orphan Black, a sci-fi thriller originally produced by BBC America and now finally making its way to the BBC Motherland. It focuses on Sarah (Tatiana Maslany), a young woman whose sense of individuality takes a knock when she encounters her own seeming identical twin, and then it happens again. And again.

I've taken an early look at the first two episodes (both of which air tonight in a double bill to get the show underway) and will be endeavouring to give an opinion without spoilers. If you want to see the debut installment right now, the BBC have obligingly stuck it up on iPlayer already, but you'll still need to wait until tonight for the second. Preview time now - there will be no hard spoilers here, but if you're mega-cautious of them, fair enough.


Two Good To Be True

As the series opens, our heroine Sarah has an uncertain past and seems to be stuck in a troubled life. So when her apparent identical double commits suicide on a train platform in front of her, it's a perfect chance for Sarah to lift her handbag, take over her life and start anew. Unfortunately, all that was too good a coincidence to be free, and she soon finds out this isn't just a random resemblence.

I won't spoil exactly what's going on, even though loads of the advance publicity for the show does, which leaves it in a strange situation: spending much of the first two episodes building to a twist most viewers already know is coming. This is one of those times I think I'd have gotten more out of the show if I wasn't someone who reads TV blog posts and so forth.

That odd marketing/pacing quirk aside, these opening episodes do a good job of establishing Sarah's character as someone who is competent but not superhuman, giving her a fun supporting cast (her adoptive brother and her weird regretful abusive ex-boyfriend work surprisingly well as a double-act, although her indentical self's boyfriend is a bit wooden) and a range of obstacles and mysteries to overcome. Based on these first parts, I'm very interested to see where all that goes.

Skirting The Mystery Bolthole

A lot of the praise for Orphan Black has been for Maslany's acting, playing more than one of the same character, and what we see of that in this first episode is indeed impressive. My only real reservation: this is a plot which could easily disappear down the Incomprehensible Conspiracy Bolthole, never to be seen again. If we continue to focus on Sarah's real struggles and let it feel like stuff is happening, rather than building everything around how mysterious everything is, prospects could be good.

So, Orphan Black airs Fridays on BBC Three starting tonight, Friday 20th September. If you want a new properly adult-themed sci-fi drama, this could be a good bet, and you can watch the first episode now to decide for yourself.

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