After the Justin Bieber debacle of recent years, we were a bit wary of pop culture coming out of Canada – even the teen drama mainstay Degrassi has slacked off of late. I mean sure, we have Drake, but he’s old news; we needed a new Canadian phenomenon to cross the border and enlighten us à la Rachel McAdams in The Notebook. Luckily for us, a shining light of television greatness has descended upon America from our Northern neighbors: Orphan Black.
Orphan Black is coined as a sci-fi thriller, but when actually watching the show it transcends this label. Is it science fiction? Yes. Is it thrilling? Of course. But it’s so much more than that. Orphan Black dives into religion, morality and personhood to depths no other show is currently attempting. The plot is based around Sarah Manning, a con artist from England, who discovers she’s a clone after witnessing one of her doubles commit suicide via train. She does the obvious thing: she steals her clone’s identity in a scheme to make some money and reunite with her daughter. This leads her to the discovery that there aren’t just two clones of her: she meets science nerd Cosima and soccer mom Alison, and by the beginning of the second season eleven Alison clones have been revealed to the viewers.
Somehow (with fancy technology I assume), a single actress plays every clone despite the fact that almost every scene includes one clone or more interacting. The stunning, dynamic Tatiana Maslany makes every clone completely unique almost to a fault. Namely, you’ll become so attracted to each different clone individually you’ll wonder for a brief moment why they aren’t making out with one another. Even when one clone is disguised as another clone, which is pretty often, you can tell who’s layered over whom. Maslany’s acting is so unreal that you could watch the show just for her, but you shouldn’t because every other aspect of Orphan Black is just as good.
The show sets up an antagonistic relationship between science and religion, but instead of one being hailed as “good” and the other “evil” their ambiguities intertwine with the very human dramas of the clones. No one is really evil in Orphan Black, and that might be what makes it so good. The religious Proletheans think cloning is unnatural and immoral, while the scientific Dyad Institute and Neolution movement want to test the limits of experimentation. These both seem like good arguments when you forget the super extreme measures both groups constantly go to, such as kidnapping and murder.
The show puts religion and science in a murky grey area of morality when you root for the clones who’re the most likable people on the show. Instead of gunning for science or religion you’re rooting for the genetic copies themselves; you’re rooting for them to have normal and happy lives. It’s not always deep thought and big questions, though: the first episode of the second season features assless chaps and a musical number about cleaning up after an unfortunate crime (the singer had just wiped away the evidence of the murder of her ex-best friend).
The show may be funny and lighthearted, but damn is it deep and relevant — actually, the first episode of the new season also features some references to the recent Supreme Court rulings about patenting DNA. Bioethics are pretty fucking important right now, and Orphan Black is somehow tackling it with tact, humor and insanely good acting.
It’s also a modern television fan’s dream: vulnerable, real female leads, characters of various races and classes, queer characters who represent more than just their sexual preferences! The representation isn’t perfect, but it’s richer than almost anything else on TV right now.
Orphan Black is good on every level with its spectacular acting, amazing plot, relevance to current events, and balanced representation. And to make it even better, there are only eleven episodes to catch up on — that’s only like nine hours of marathoning and we all know you’ve done more than that! So, thank you Canada; by introducing Orphan Black to our TV sets we might just forget about Justin Bieber being an asshole. Actually, this is unlikely.