As it wraps up its second season, BBC America’s Orphan Black is gaining more and more attention. But what exactly is it about this quirky show about clones that makes it so watchable?
1. Oh, the suspense!
With so many different shows airing new episodes weekly, a watchable series must have some way of drawing in viewers and making them want to tune in week after week. For Orphan Black, the major draw is probably the suspense. The ending of each episode almost always reveals some sort of essential plot twist or conflict to be explored in the next. However, the withholding of information from the viewer is not done in a cheap way, and there is something new to be learned at every turn. Every hour-long episode alters the characters and overall plot significantly from beginning to end, making it difficult to jump in after skipping an episode. These factors force the viewer to keep coming back for more.
2. Strong female characters
…And not in the one-sided-warrior-princess way, either. Sarah Manning and her clone “sisters” each possess unique qualities that make them tough and vulnerable at the same time. Whether it’s the smart and quirky Cosima, the uptight soccer mom Alison, or the seemingly soulless Rachel Duncan, each character develops beyond the viewer’s first impressions and is shown to have weaknesses as well. This makes Orphan Black a great example of how to write strong female characters that do not rely on sarcasm or physical toughness. Each of the clones’ weak moments make their individual triumphs even more meaningful.
3. Queer Representation
While there have been a few more LGBTQA characters on television in recent years, the queer characters on Orphan Black are unique in that their storylines do not revolve around their LGBTQA status. For example, Cosima, while a canon lesbian character, struggles more with grasping the scientific implications of her identity as a clone than she does with her sexuality. Felix, who is openly gay, focuses more on helping Sarah and the other clones than he does on his identity as a gay man. This makes Orphan Black a great model for how TV writers should write queer characters — that is, the same way they write any other character.
4. A little of everything
Another unique element to Orphan Black is its way of combining many popular genres together. Looking for some geeky sci-fi elements? Murder investigation? Romance? Drama? As the plot twists and turns, Orphan Black touches on all of these elements throughout the different plot arcs, combining them to set a tone that is truly unique.
5. Tatiana Maslany…’nuff said.
As if you need one more reason to check out Orphan Black, all of the clones are played spectacularly by the talented Tatiana Maslany. Not only does she undertake nine different roles throughout the show, but she also plays them all authentically. Though the characters may look alike, Maslany portrays them each differently, taking special care not to accidentally blur their personalities. In fact, she does this so well that while watching an episode, it is easy to forget that most of the characters are being played by the same actress!
Between the authentic characters or complex and suspenseful plot, Orphan Black sets an example for how TV writers can incorporate elements like drama or romance into a sci-fi premise without sacrificing the integrity of the series as a whole.