By Paula Hendrickson
A new show has begun building quite a following on BBC America. It’s Orphan Black, and it airs Saturday nights immediately after Doctor Who. It’s not even a British show. It’s shot in Canada, with a Canadian actress in the lead role. Or roles.
Tatiana Maslany plays the central character, Sarah, a British street punk and former foster child who relocated to North America, along with her foster brother, Felix (Jordan Gavaris). Sarah’s young daughter, Kira (Skyler Wexler), is being raised by Sarah and Felix’s former foster mother, Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy).
Early in the first episode, Sarah sees a doppelganger of herself calmly set down her bag, remove her shoes and jump in front of a train. She grabs the bag, intending to raid her lookalike’s house and savings accounts so she can start a new life with Kira.
The dead woman was Detective Beth Childs, and before Sarah realizes it, she’s assumed Beth’s life (and accent), her job and her boyfriend. She also runs into yet another woman who shares her face. And that’s just how this captivating thriller starts. The lookalikes keep turning up — and sometimes wind up dead.
Maslany does the work of several actresses in each episode. Every character she plays has a totally different look, a different accent and different mannerisms. They share numerous scenes. And as if that’s not challenge enough, she’s even had to play one lookalike posing as another one — aside from Sarah masquerading as Beth.
Outstanding technical effects, camera work and editing make you forget you’re watching one actress conversing (and occasionally fighting) with herself. There’s humor, too, like Felix trying to teach one of the lookalikes how to dress, speak and behave like Sarah.
Orphan Black is the epitome of a high-concept series, but it’s more than merely a gimmick of having one actress play multiple roles. The core mystery draws you in. Why do all of these women look alike? Who wants them dead, and why?
Only four episodes have aired as of now, so there’s still time to catch up on one of TV’s most fascinating and entertaining new series.
You can watch already-aired episodes of Orphan Black via On Demand or on iTunes, VUDU, Amazon or XBOX digital platforms. BBC America also repeats its entire Saturday night lineup on Thursday, with Orphan Black in the 8 p.m. Central timeslot.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the April 24-30, 2013, issue