Orphan Black Season 1 DVD review

Is BBC America’s deliciously dark sci-fi thriller Orphan Black worth catching up with?

Orphan Black was one of the real out-of-nowhere surprises of last year – a whip-smart, witty and inventive sci-fi series with a stunning performance at its centre.

Tatiana Maslany (Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed) plays Sarah, a street urchin turned con artist who’s looking to get back in her young daughter’s life. When she witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks exactly like her, she soon discovers that she’s not quite one of kind. In fact, there are several women who look exactly like her, and at least one of them is working for a shady organisation that is trying to kill her.

For all the conspiracy theory plotting and shady organisations, the real reason for Orphan Black’s huge appeal is the success of its high concept. Maslany excels as each of the characters (even if we have to point out that the English accents on the show aren’t exactly a high point… Brixton, eh?), making each one so convincing that you will forget that it’s the same actor.

There’s fiery series lead Sarah, brittle suburban soccer mum Alison, warm-hearted academic Cosima and psychotic assassin Helena, and that’s just for starters.
The plot itself comes second, as Sarah uncovers two warring organisations, the Proletheans and the Neolutionists, both of with an interest in the clones. The growing paranoia gives Maslany the opportunity to stretch the already unstable Alison to breaking point, with hilarious results, and to give Cosima’s relationship with her girlfriend Delphine (Évelyne Brochu) real depth.

Maslany is so strong that the supporting cast have to fight not to suffer in comparison. Maria Doyle Kennedy grounds the series wonderfully as Sarah’s foster mother Mrs S, Dylan Bruce is excellent as Sarah’s artist/rent-boy foster-brother Felix, and Matt Frewer is dependably creepy as a Neolutionist scientist, but characters such as shady monitor Paul (Dylan Bruce) fade into the background.

However, while the supporting characters and plotting may drift into the generic, there’s enough energy to keep it gripping, while Maslany’s superb performances make it a must-see.