Way back in March, I watched the pilot for BBC America’s “Orphan Black” and liked it, but — as is sometimes the case with new shows — promptly lost all track of it.
Lately I’ve been playing catch-up on a number of high-profile series as we near the end of the year, to figure out which ones should be included on my best TV of 2013 list.
“Orphan Black” was up last week, which turned out to be serendipitous, as star Tatiana Maslany was nominated for a best actress Golden Globe right in the midst of my marathon.
Talk about a breakout performance. What she’s able to do — playing a slew of different characters, sometimes even as one impersonating the other — is remarkable.
If you haven’t seen the show yet and want to keep all of its plot points a surprise, stop reading right now.
For the rest of you, here’s a brief synopsis of season one (the series doesn’t return until April). Even if you do keep reading, watch it anyway. “Orphan Black” is one of those shows that sounds silly on paper but will absolutely suck you into its world, thanks to great performances and a fast pace that leaves nothing dragged out for too long.
The show centers on ne’er-do-well grifter Sarah Manning (Maslany) whose entire life is turned upside down after she spies a woman who looks exactly like her, moments before that woman, Beth Childs, throws herself in front of an oncoming train.
Looking for a way out of her own crappy life, Sarah grabs Beth’s purse and assumes her identity, planning to wipe out whatever savings Beth has before making a run for it.
But it’s not that easy. Before her death, Beth, a cop, was on suspension from work and under investigation for shooting a civilian. She also was conducting some kind of off-the-books investigation involving several other women who share Sarah’s birthday and, we eventually found out, also look exactly like her.
Sarah-as-Beth soon encounters one of their doppelgangers, a German who is killed right in front of her. It’s not long before more are popping up, and the truth is revealed: Sarah, Beth, the German and their “twins” are all clones, part of an illegal scientific experiment.
Each of the women was conceived via in vitro fertilization, to different mothers all over the globe, and the scientists have been keeping tabs on most of them for their entire lives (except, it would seem, for Sarah, whose birth mother managed to hide her from them until now).
Members of the “clone club” include prim and proper suburban housewife Allison, science geek/college student Cosima and homicidal maniac Helena, who is on a mission to kill all of them, thanks to a religious zealot who has convinced her that she’s the original and all the others are abominations.
The plot twists and turns from there, as Sarah impersonates Beth and winds up catching the case of the dead German woman.
The scenes between the clones are usually the series’ best. Maslany so embodies each character that it’s easy to forget that one actress is playing all of them.
The women eventually discover they each have a “monitor” that reports back on their behavior to the scientists. It’s usually the person closest to them. For Beth, it was her live-in boyfriend, Paul (Dylan Bruce), who Sarah eventually bonds with after revealing her true identity, and Cosima, a fellow student who cozies up to her in the lab.
Throughout it all, Sarah works to keep her daughter, Kira, safe from both the scientists and whatever else is lurking out there, relying on foster brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris, another breakout) and Paul, who finds himself falling for the woman who has been impersonating his dead girlfriend, while Beth’s dogged partner, Art (Kevin Hanchard), closes in on the truth.
It’s a fascinating show, best watched in marathon form, so you can go from one revelation to the next without any agonizing weeklong breaks.
The first season of “Orphan Black” is available on Netflix. The second is expected to premiere on BBC America on April 19.
Contact Casey Gillis at (434) 385-5525 or firstname.lastname@example.org.