After witnessing a woman's suicide, street-wise chameleon Sarah assumes the strangers identity - who happens to look just like her. Expecting to solve all her problems by cleaning out the dead woman's savings, Sarah is instead thrust headlong into a kaleidoscopic mystery. She makes the dizzying discovery that she and the dead woman are clones… but are they the only ones? Sarah quickly finds herself caught in the middle of a deadly conspiracy and must race to find answers about who she is and how many others there are just like her.
Imagine this scenario: you're waiting for a train and notice someone else at the station. That person turns your way and they look exactly like you. Before you can say anything, though, the person in question throws themselves in front of the train, committing suicide. This is the 'hook' for BBC America's 'Orphan Black' series, one of the best science-fiction shows currently airing on cable television and a tour de force for young actress and star Tatiana Maslany.
Maslany plays Sarah Manning, who is far from what viewers would expect from a lead character as the series gets underway. She's a drifter and a con artist, whose immediate reaction to seeing a woman who looks exactly like her commit suicide is wondering how she can profit from it. After getting over the shock of watching her identical twin leap to her death, Sarah takes her purse and discovers that the woman's name is Beth Childs, she was a police officer, and she has a significant amount of money in the bank. Hoping to get Childs' cash, Sarah decides to take on her identity until such time as she can get the money out of the bank and make a run for it.
Assisting Sarah in her scheme is her foster brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris), who is both a starving artist and nighttime gigolo. He provides most of the comic relief in Season One, but he's also the most loyal and trustworthy person that Sarah has in her life. Sarah also finds herself under the watchful eye of police detective Art Bell (Kevin Hanchard), who was Beth Childs' former police partner and is now quite suspicious of the 'new' Beth, although he doesn't have any idea that he's dealing with an imposter.
Of course – and I'm not giving away any secrets here, as the cat has long been out of the bag – Sarah soon comes to discover that Beth wasn't just a lookalike, she was actually Sarah's clone and there's more like her out there. She eventually crosses paths with soccer mom Alison and scientist Cosima, who are also clones. Later in the first season, Sarah will meet up with Helena, another clone – but one that is far more dangerous and mentally unstable.
The amazing thing here is – through the magic of some flawless special effects, but even moreso through Ms. Maslany's incredible acting – that all of the clones are played by Tatiana. She gives each one of them such a distinct personality that, if one didn't know beforehand that Tatiana was doing the various parts, one might think that the producers had tracked down triplets or quadruplets to play the parts. It's insulting that she hasn't yet been nominated for an Emmy for, quite frankly, the best acting currently being done on television, female or male.
What makes 'Orphan Black' appointment TV is that its ongoing storylines can lead into so many different genres. It can be a mystery, a sci-fi show, a police procedural, a thriller, or a comedy – or a mix of any or all of those – and still manage to maintain a sense of 'believability' with the home viewer. It's also extremely well-paced, wrapping up story threads in a couple of episodes where most other series would have them extend for an entire season. All of this adds up to a series that is not only fun to watch, but fun to re-watch, making it a highly recommended addition for one's Blu-ray library.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Orphan Black: Season One' gets copied onto Blu-ray in a two-disc release. The eco-friendly Elite keepcase house both discs with no inserts, and a slipcover matching the artwork of the case's slick slides overtop. Disc One is front-loaded with ads for Doctor Who: Season 7, Part II, Copper: Season 2, and a BBC America promo; while Disc Two is front-loaded with a different ad for Copper: Season 2, plus one for 'Luther: Season 3'. The main menu consists of a still of the box cover image, with menu selections running along the bottom of the screen. Each episode houses five episodes of Season One's 10-episode season, with all the bonus materials appearing on the second disc.
Although I was unable to track down what equipment is used, it's pretty obvious that 'Orphan Black' is shot on digital cameras, making for a stunning transition to home video. Colors here are nicely saturated and the picture shows plenty of sharpness and detail, particularly during daytime sequences. Black levels are pretty inky throughout, and although some crush is evident every now and again, those instances are few and far between.
Skin tones are consistently balanced, as are the contrast levels. I didn't notice any major instances of noise, banding, or aliasing. All in all, this is a pretty delightful transfer of the series that looks much sharper on Blu-ray than my cable system's BBC America feed and one that should please fans of the show quite a bit.
The English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio (the only audio option available) on these episodes doesn't always pack a lot of punch, but it does spring to life when the scene calls for it. Although there's action involved as the series progresses, a big chunk of 'Orphan Black' consists of characters talking to each other. In those sequences, the surrounds are rarely noticeable, as the majority of dialogue is front and center, with little in terms of directionality. However, when action is happing on-screen and/or the series' soundtrack kicks in, the rear speakers are much more evident.
While the track never really provides an immersive feel, it does do a solid job of making the ambient sounds in a scene feel distinct from others. Directionality isn't frequently used, but when it is, it's noticeable. So, while the track may lack the 'oomph' of say, a major motion picture release, for a television series, it's pretty solid, with no noticeable glitches or issues.
Subtitles are available in English SDH only.
Note: All of the extras listed below are contained on Disc Two of this release.
One of the real gems currently on cable television, 'Orphan Black' is finally beginning to emerge from its cult status and break into the mainstream. This first season is quite engaging, thanks in large part to the incredible acting range of Tatiana Maslany, who plays no less than seven different characters – all distinctly and convincingly. Even without the 'gimmick' of the lead actress playing half the series' characters, 'Orphan Black' is well-written 'appointment' television. It's one of the better sci-fi shows of the new century. Highly recommended.