In between short seasonal runs for episodic television combined with the power of social media and word of mouth, it seems a little weird to say that my wife and I did not get in on the ground floor of the Canadian-produced, British network (well, BBC America) aired show Orphan Black until near the end of its first season. Fortunately for that season, it had so much intrigue built into it that one could not help but immediately try and find the other episodes and get caught up to speed.
The show's concept is in a word, interesting. Tatiana Maslany (The Vow) plays several identical genetic clones, almost all of them unaware the other exists. Alison is a housewife and soccer Mom, Sarah is a bit of a hoodlum, Cosima is a biologist, Helena is an Eastern bloc assassin and Rachel knows of their presence, largely because she works at the Institute that created them all. The clones attempt to discover the truth about them and occasionally work around the ‘monitors' assigned to look over them individually without compromising their real identities. More about it is touched upon in the first season review of the show, but whereas Season One is as much of a discovery with the various clones, Season Two helps build upon what we have learned and helps us stay in the quest to learn the truth with the main character…s.
Much of the praise surrounding Orphan Black has been the ability of Maslany's ability to juggle the characters so well and keep all of the stories with them moving, and it is well worth the hype. She plays a Russian, a Brit, an American all with ease and breezes in and out of each well. At a higher level, the show and the Maslany's performances in general tended to remind me of Alias in that like Jennifer Garner's Sydney Bristow, Maslany's clones start out with various levels of naiveté (Rachel aside) but eventually embrace their realities and attempt to discover the truth while avoid further exploitation.
The ensemble around Maslany is generally good as well. Jordan Gavaris (Curse Of Chucky) plays Felix, a foster brother of one of the clones, and he is almost revelatory. Other acquaintances of the various clones include Art Bell (Kevin Hanchard, Four Brothers), a police officer and former partner of one of the clones, and Donnie (Kristian Braun), Alison's husband and a monitor. Their scenes separately and together play to such a welcome comic change of pace, even when Donnie kills off a recurring guest star, that how they maintain the integrity of the characters is fascinating. If there were one clone that is underwhelming for me, one that I hit the old FF button on the DVR, it would be if they continue to try and make Tony a thing. It would be one thing if there existed some sort of plan, or Tony's appearance was a little thought out more. However, it comes off as somewhat doing it for the sake of sensationalism. Most shows have their weak points; Orphan Black has Tony.
The show has some interesting things in mind for Season Three, or more specifically the pieces are in place. The late season addition of Michelle Forbes (Battlestar Galactica) as Rachel's boss Marion has some potential behind it as one with some brains but is even more cold and precise than Rachel which for the show would be a good thing. The addition of one another recognizable baddie could take the show into the mainstream, which may be a good or bad thing depending on perspective.
Though it has done a bit already in just twenty episodes of existence, another slightly undersold portion of what is good about Orphan Black is because so much time is spent on so many clones, when one takes a step back to look at it you seem to realize that the show is only starting to explore its mythology. Whether it is the Dyad Institute, the Proletheans or Neolutionists, we have a long way to go and the show is on the right path to being something really special.
Ten episodes are split evenly over two BD-50 discs and presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and use the AVC encode for their high-definition display. Detail such as facial poring and individual hairs and wrinkles are easily discernible, colors and flesh tones are reproduced faithfully and without a worry in terms of saturation or color push. Black levels are inky and provide excellent contrast, and there is little in terms of image processing to distract from the viewing experience. There is little difference between the broadcast episodes nary a couple of months ago and this, but this looks excellent.
We get DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround for all of the episodes and things are generally without complaint. Dialogue is clear as a bell and there are moments of channel panning from right to left and front to back, and back the other way if need be. It is not wholly and consistently active yet conveys a convincing layer of immersion. Subwoofer engagement is scant yet smartly placed and the soundtrack is as clean as can be. Overall, the listening experience is excellent for the show.
What is here seems decent when you first see it, but ultimately was not enough to hold my attention. "The Cloneversation" (42:38) is a television-length feature hosted by Wil Wheaton and includes interviews with the cast and crew as they discuss the success of the first season and what to expect for the second. It includes interviews with celebrity fans Patton Oswalt and Orlando Jones as they share their thoughts on the show and why they like it, and the obligatory act of trying to squeeze some sort of information out of the show runners by the hosts is done here too. For what it is, it is decent. Disc Two starts with four Behind the Scenes featurettes (38:22) which go over the writing, effects, hair and makeup of the various clones, and the cast discuss working with four different "clones," and even the stand in for Maslany gets a bit of screen time here too. The featurettes wrap up with a look at the clone dance in the finale and how it was made. Unlike "The Cloneversation," this was long yet had more information in it. Five small interviews called "Clone Club Insiders" (8:57) examine said clones and Maslany's thoughts on inhabiting them, where they were at the end of Season One, what is to come in Season Two and hopes for Season Three, if necessary. Three deleted scenes (6:15) from the finale include a bit more exposition to an arc involving Alison and Donnie, but very little else.
I do not think that Orphan Black is THE best show on television, but goodness knows it has a lot going on in its characters and storylines and so much has left to be tapped that it can really be memorable if the right decisions about it are made (yes, no Tony). Technically, the discs are excellent, though could use a commentary or two to be worth keeping. But definitely since it is summer as of this writing, if you want a show to binge on, this would be one to strongly consider.