Orphan Black: Serious SF for TV


Tatiana Maslany of Orphan Black

Why have I not broached the subject of Orphan Black on this blog before?  I honestly don’t know, because it’s just the kind of thing I love, as well as love talking about.  Orphan Black is one of my most favorite things in the world, the incredible rare bird.

Serious science fiction.

For television, dawg.

Yeah.  No goofy aliens speaking English.  No warp drives or time travel.  No stargates or Jawas or omnipotent beings. No space-ship chases or laser battles.  None of the things that television executives insist must be in every sci-fi TV show for it to be successful (and are, apparently, mostly right.)

Orphan Black is about real modern science and its social, political and ethical consequences.  And man, is it awesome.

The show follows Sarah Manning, played by Tatiana Maslany; an orphan with questionable morals and a child she can’t support, who is shocked one day to see a woman who looks exactly like her… just before the woman commits suicide in front of her.  This event starts Sarah on a journey that eventually reveals her to be one of an untold number of clones (at least 10), born in 1984 in a secret experiment.  She meets and befriends other clones… her “sisters” in the “clone club.”  But the clones are not all physically the same, and Sarah becomes a target because she is one of the few clones that can conceive children (something none of them were supposed to be able to do).


L-R: Tatiana Maslany, Tatiana Maslany, Jordan Gavaris, Tatiana Maslany, Tatiana Maslany.

Orphan Black is cleverly filmed, most notably with Tatiana Maslany playing the roles of all the clones, in many cases in scenes with 2, 3 and even 4 clones interacting together in nigh-flawless special effects moments.  Maslany is incredible in her own right, playing each clone so uniquely and convincingly that at (many) times, it’s difficult to remember that these sisters are not actually individuals.  And she is aided by an amazing supporting cast that sustains the believability of multiple clones throughout the series.

But the series is as meticulously scripted by screenwriter Graeme Manson and director John Fawcett, who have created an incredibly realistic world where institutions experiment with clones for their own profit, some clones struggle to survive their own flaws, and other organizations try to help some of the clones to survive independently and secretly.

This show doesn’t feel like a cartoon or a crazy cop show with ridiculous chase scenes, characters pulling off unlikely moments or Tatiana’s constantly playing clones impersonating each other, with hilarious results.  It feels incredibly realistic, even with the surprising and strange characters (like a geneticist who grew his own tail), moments (a clone tying up and torturing her husband to discover if he is reporting on her to others) and… well, everything the clone Helena does.  It could be happening—out there, somewhere—right now.

Orphan Black is the kind of science fiction that television needs… and that non-SF fans need to see, so they will realize that SF isn’t just rubber monsters and mindless shoot-em-ups.  The kind of science fiction that makes people stop and think about the world around them, how it is changing, and what the future holds for them.  Orphan Black embodies the power of science fiction to inform, to enlighten, and to mold the future.

It should be lauded.  It should be emulated.  It should be what we all think of when we think SF television.

7 thoughts on “Orphan Black: Serious SF for TV

  1. Cassidy Frazee

    The “Clone Dance Party” took two days to film, and probably a month to block out and put together. You have to admire the dedication of the people involved. Oh, and the young girl who played the “clone sister” introduced in the last episode of Season Two did her own version of the same dance.


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