Orphan Black - Sarah at train station

Review by C.J. Bunce

From the first scene of Orphan Black you can’t help getting reeled in.  Although the pilot opens with a woman walking in front of a passenger train, the world of a street urchin instantly is propelled like a freight train into strange, new territory for fans of action and sci-fi.  Not since last year’s pilot for NBC’s short-lived series Awake were we so quickly certain a series had to be added to the must-watch list.  That’s saying something since there have been so many new series to try on this year, series like The Following, Cult, and even the more recent Bates Motel that have already started to stack up in the viewing backlog.  With series like Lost Girl, Psych, Arrow, Continuum, Grimm, Dallas, New Girl, and now Doctor Who back from hiatus locked-in the must-see TV realm, Orphan Black is pretty much a late but welcome entry, especially to the sparse Saturday night line-up.

Orphan Black changing appearances

Orphan Black has a completely cool look–big city, edgy, dark places, with an equally cool lead in Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany.  Maslany, who has a bit of the look of actress Summer Glau, plays a Brit who encounters what could be her twin at a train stop in New York City, but it’s all filmed in the not-quite-the-same looking streets of Ontario.  The women look each other in the eye and this is so well filmed you don’t question that these are two separate people despite Maslany playing both roles.  The pilot manages to take some extraordinary circumstances and render them believable, a rewarding feat successfully handled, due to good acting and a story that answers every question the audience could ask, and each question real people in these situations would ask.

Orphan Black - watching herself or not

No viewer could help but compare this to the CW’s short-lived Ringer, the night-time soap formula series that starred Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Sarah Michelle Gellar as a twin who takes on her sister’s identity.  But whether it was the limited creativeness of Ringer’s writers or the fact that you couldn’t separate Gellar and co-star Ioan Griffudd from their real-life personas, Ringer just didn’t work for long.  Out of the gates the relatively unknown cast and stylish treatment setting up a sci-fi twist leaves unlimited possibilities for future episodes of Orphan Black.  Will each episode be like Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, with Maslany’s character Sarah working with, hiding from, or facing off a la La Femme Nikita with a new clone of herself?  Or will this be like Continuum, where Sarah works to uncover the bigger series mystery, why so many people look like her, why the first duplicate she met was a cop with a lockbox full of birth certificates of other doppelgangers, why she’s being followed by her new partner and getting shot at, and what is “Orphan Black,” a lab experiment gone awry or CIA super-soldier project?

Jordan Gavaris in Orphan Black

Along with Maslany’s Sarah able to adapt like a real survivor on the streets, equally interesting is her foster brother Felix, played by Jordan Gavaris, another street hustler, who is willing to help Sarah with the con of taking on a new life and deflect her abusive ex-boyfriend Vic (Michael Mando, Psych, Lost Girl), who humorously gets overly emotional at her “faked” death in the series opener.  Instead of covering old territory, like the difficulty of keeping up the fakery with a boyfriend (beginning strangely like a scene from Single White Female), already done with the series Ringer, the show creators would be wise to take advantage of the chemistry between Maslany and Gavaris’s characters and focus on them.  With the addition of an estranged daughter for Sarah, the displaced cop trying to get back to her daughter also draws parallels to Alex Drake, Keeley Hawes’ character in Ashes to Ashes, the sequel series to the brilliant British sci-fi series Life on Mars.

Here is the slick series teaser that had us eagerly waiting for this pilot for months:

A great set-up, characters, actors, dark thriller vibe and the sci-fi hook should be enough to get you to track down the pilot if you missed this one.  Orphan Black airs at 8 p.m. Central/9 p.m. Eastern on Saturdays on BBC America, following Doctor Who.