Summer is a bit of a bummer for people like me whose daily thrill is watching an hour of high quality TV. Summer traditionally is a bit of desert for series that can be considered part of TV’s now over-a-decade-old Renaissance.
Summer series like Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” – well produced and interesting – simply don’t rise to the level of True Detective and Game of Thrones from HBO or Mad Men and Breaking Bad from AMC. That’s not to slight Ray Donovan. Jon Voight did give the performance of his life in a career full of wonderful ones. His performance was recognized with a well deserved Golden Globe for best supporting actor in very competitive field. Still, the series just misses for me, and I find myself not at all excited for its return this weekend.
I did find something fabulous to fill in the interim, the BBC America series Orphan Black. Wow!
This is the most consistently riveting BBC dramatic series since the 6-episode State of Play (later turning into a very good Russel Crowe film).
In case you don’t know Orphan Black has been a series with a heavy buzz. Not only did this drama about clones make the cover of Entertainment Weekly, it also won scores of awards including the artistically coveted Peabody. It’s a wildly inventive mix of sci-fi and police-drama genres that is unique. While at times it feels like other shows, almost always it goes further in unexpected, often shocking, directions.
The most remarkable thing about this drama is a truly dazzling performance by Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany. Playing all the clones (about 9 in total thus far) this is the type of role that in less capable hands could sink the show by turning into camp. That never happens.
Maslany is completely believable because she does so much more that just put on a wig and glasses to transform herself into another clone. She fully embodies each personality. It’s very physically demanding set of performances reminding me a bit of Jennifer Garner star-making turn in Alias. Orphan Black is acting, writing, and directing coming together in the way all great series do. This series is not to be missed by any fan of serialized drama.
This week when the Emmy Awards were announced, Maslany’s lack of being nominated for Season 2 raised a chorus of “snub” across the internet. Because she’s already won the Television Critics Award for best actress twice, this chatter is completely understandable. And seriously, as good as Julianna Margulies is in The Good Wife and Robin Wright is in House of Cards – they are only playing one role. Snub indeed.
The real hook for this series isn’t Maslany’s performance. What makes this a show to watch right away is the overall craft of the storytelling executed by creators Graeme Mason and John Fawcett and their team on over a dozen of writers. In this Game of Thrones world of serialized drama, shocking the audience has never been more difficult. Orphan Black shocks, over and over, never straying into the implausible. Keeping this up through another season will be tough.
All you need to do is start at the beginning and let it unfold. You’ll see this isn’t “a stupid show about clones with cheesy effects” – as I feared it would. What you’ll find instead will be a completely original series, up there with the best from Television’s renaissance.