The fledging BBC America series Orphan Black has finished just its first season, but it has already cemented its place among the post-LOST sci-fi/action elite. A great deal of that has to do with the tightly wound storytelling and plausible layers of mythology, but the singular, defining aspect of the show for many (okay, for all) is the absolutely titanic central performance from Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany.
You just broke the first rule of Clone Club.
There is much that I won’t reveal, as I really do want you to check out this show, but the central setup is this: a tough London transplant (and grifter) named Sarah sees a woman who looks identical to her step in front of a train. Seeing an opportunity, Sarah grabs the woman’s purse, planning to assume her identity long enough to clean out her bank account…but, as tends to happen in these shows, she falls almost immediately into a world she doesn’t understand.
Quite simply, this series wouldn’t work without Maslany as the anchor. As the story evolves (heh), and Sarah comes to learn there are quite a few more women who look identical to her, Maslany ends up playing a half-dozen roles: tough-but-sympathetic Sarah, free-spirited scientist Cosima, hysterically uptight housewife Alison, Russian psychopath Helena, and on and on. Maslany is frequently acting opposite herself, which is hard enough without having to create distinct and memorable characters. Ramping the degree of difficulty even further, these characters sometimes have to impersonate each other in different situations.
Fortunately, the show doesn’t have to rely solely on Maslany for every second of screen time. Jordan Garvaris is a treat as Sarah’s loyal (and gay) foster brother Felix, and fellow unknowns Kevin Hanchard, Dylan Bruce, and even Matt “Max Headroom” Frewer play key roles–but the show belongs entirely to Tatiana Maslany. If you heard a great cry in certain corners of the internet the day Emmy nominations were announced, it’s because she was left off the list…but everyone knows her name now.
It starts re-airing on BBC America Saturday the 14th, and it’s also out on DVD, so catch up before Season 2. Not only is it one of the most intriguing and cleverly-developed concepts to come along in a while, it features one of the most insanely great performances on any screen, in any year.