Send in the Clones: A Review of ORPHAN BLACK on DVD

Orphan Black - DVD Cover

Courtesy of BBC Home Entertainment

(Special thanks to BBC Home Entertainment for providing a complimentary DVD set for review, and this post originally appeared at Comic Related)

“How many of me are out there?”

A small-time con artist on the run. A troubled cop. A suburban soccer mom. A grad student in biology. A woman suffering a lifetime of abuse. All these women share one thing in common….and that one thing is the basis of Orphan Black, a BBC America-produced show out of Canada now available as a 3-DVD set.

Tatiana Muslany portrays all of the above characters, and it’s not a spoiler to state that Orphan Black focuses on issues around human cloning and its impact on personal identity, but cloaked within a solidly written story. Each of Maslany’s her character portrayals is full-blooded, as each “clone” has her own strong sense of history and personality. One of the more fascinating aspects to the show is how special effects allow Maslany to “interacts” with herself, having the viewer ask “How did they do that?” without seeming self-conscious. All of the acting on the show is superb, making Orphan Black a great, crackling ensemble drama.

Orphan Black

Courtesy of BBC Home Entertainment

Another enjoyable aspect how Orphan Black shifts in tone and format from suburban comedy of manners to hard-boiled police drama, from high end conspiracy thriller (a la X-Files and Fringe) to interpersonal relationship drama, yet manages to maintain a consistent tone. This also is not a show for “binge watchers” – most of the episodes are pretty well-paced, but the intensity can be a bit much for some viewers. (This is also more of an adult-themed series, with plenty of profanity and scenes that would not be out of place on paid cable channels).

But ultimately, Orphan Black’s success is that it is a show about big ideas which are played out on a small, street-level scale. Besides issues around human cloning and identity, ideas around “self-directed evolution” and “bio-hacking” – building a better self through genetics – are discussed throughout the narrative. Issues around personal culpability (how much one’s background can influence one’s “sins”) and “mastery” of one’s life move Orphan Black closer in tone and theme to the classic Prisoner series.

Thankfully, BBC America has renewed Orphan Black for a second season, and with the first season closer – well deserved. This is one mystery that deserves further exploration, and Orphan Black is one of the hidden gems of genre television. It’s well worth watching, and can easily be purchased via BBC America’s online shop.

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