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Twin Sneaks: 'Orphan Black' a Double Thriller
March 28, 2013  | By Eric Gould  | 2 comments

The lead character of BBC America's new series, Orphan Black, is obviously not averse to taking advantage of an unexpected opportunity that presents itself. 

Since the premise is set up in the show's very first scene, it's not much of a spoiler to say that while standing on a subway platform waiting for a train, street-wise Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) spots a woman who looks exactly like her. Before Sarah can get face-to-face with her doppelgänger, the woman throws herself in front of the oncoming train and is instantly killed.

Undaunted, Sarah picks up the dead woman's purse and slips away before police and paramedics arrive. And that's where the odyssey of Orphan Black, which premieres Saturday, March 30 at 9 p.m. ET, begins.

Sarah, a scruffy Brit raised in America by a foster mother, begins to familiarize herself with the life of the dead woman, whose name was Beth. Sarah's intent is to empty out Beth's bank account, but what Sarah thinks will be a quick score leads to a chain of Quantum Leap-style situations that require her to think quick to keep fooling those who knew Beth, including Beth's boyfriend, Paul (Dylan Bruce). Sarah, who's on the run from an abusive ex, quickly becomes embedded in the role, and, as things evolve, she can't get out.

It's Sarah's need to hide her real identity and succeed in portraying her assumed identity that brings the "Black" to the series title.

In an email to TVWW, co-producer/creator Graeme Manson wrote, "In England I heard the term "working black" used to describe my sketchy employment as a roofer. It means working "under the table" or illegally, in the "black economy." Many of our characters are all essentially orphans — they have no discernible biological parents.  But without giving too much away, Sarah is different, a "child to hide." She is off the radar, "in the black."

The pilot episode makes us wonder whether Sarah's identical twin is just a miraculous coincidence (how could it be?) or if there is something deeper, more sinister going on (of course, there has to be). As the show progresses things begin to unravel, and Sarah finds herself sinking deeper and deeper into a situation she could have never imagined.

Maslany makes a good, credible run as Sarah, particularly when she's got to get herself out of a sticky spot. Jordan Gavaris also does well as her equally-jaded foster brother Felix, a struggling artist living in a hipster, industrial loft. Like his sister, Felix is no stranger to the hustler's game, and helps the new Beth adapt to her new game.

Orphan Black moves between plot points, at least in the pilot, with a minimum of outlandish tricks. There's a big curve at the end of the premiere's conclusion, as big as the opening scene, that will no doubt propel viewers to episode two.

Orphan Black isn't strictly a conspiracy thriller, or a pseudo-sci-fi, although the series, which has the tone of a dystopian Phillip K. Dick thriller (Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau) seems headed there, but without the gadgetry antics (except for a young person's ubiquitous smart phone.)

The series ought to do well with younger viewers, who may identify with the smart, feisty rebel. There's also plenty of hip, jagged editing and modern music for them. (And be forewarned: The show also has its fair share of nudity and violence.) Scheduling it in a Saturday night spot, however, may keep it off the radar of the 18+ demographic that might appreciate it the most, and it will need to rely heavily on DVR viewings to capture that audience.

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It will interesting to see if they can keep the characters engaging. Neither Sarah, her foster brother, or her ex are likable characters. However, I did find Sarah's ability to snow her potential marks amusing. Unfortunately, they let the previews give the major plot point away. Now, is there a story to go with that basic idea? They could go almost anywhere. Since it's a British series, I look forward to a more subtle handling than we Americans would have given it. (Fingers crossed!)
Apr 3, 2013   |  Reply
Mr.Gould, you don't actually say whether or not you've watched all of the episodes of the series, but I assume that you have watched all of the episodes. The only reason I will stay with all of the episodes is because I will have access to cable television on Saturday nights. Based on what I saw and heard on Satirdau evemg. March 30th, "Orphan Black" is another tv series mess.
Mar 31, 2013   |  Reply
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