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You Should Be Watching: ‘Orphan Black’

If you enjoy cutting-edge science fiction in which biotechnology makes us question all that we assume about human individuality, then get ready to binge-watch your way into catching up with “Orphan Black.” Filmed just across the border in Toronto, “Orphan Black” is a compelling show about clones and biotech culture that has been renewed for a fifth season (2017).

Title: “Orphan Black”

Year it began: 2013

Where it can be seen: BBC America, Amazon

Who’s in it: Tatiana Maslany, Jordan Gavaris, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Matt Frewer and Kristian Bruun

Typical episode length: 43 minutes

Number of episodes to date: 40

Brief plot description: Con artist Sarah Manning finds her life thrown into chaos when she steals the identity of a woman who looks exactly like her, and who kills herself right before her eyes. While pretending to be police officer Beth Childs, Manning befriends Childs’s former partner, Detective Art Bell, and soon discovers that she is just one of a number of clones scattered throughout the world. Working alongside her foster-brother Felix and a number of clone allies, Manning tries to protect her daughter Kira as she investigates a dangerous scientific conspiracy linked with a philosophy called Neolution.

Why it’s worth watching: Carefully managing the revelations of a shadowy global cloning project, “Orphan Black” creates an engaging conspiracy narrative. At the core of the show is Maslany’s singularly powerful performance as a significant number of clones whose interactions are vital to the plot. Maslany’s characters are so individuated that one often forgets one person plays such different figures as the fiercely determined Manning, the gently cerebral and dreadlocked Cosima Niehaus, the feral Ukrainian killer Helena, or the manically perky suburbanite Alison Hendrix. An Emmy for Maslany is surely overdue. Other standout performances include Gavaris’ charming hipster Felix, Kennedy’s steely foster-mother Mrs. S., and Frewer’s creepy biotechnology guru Dr. Leekie. As it weaves commentary about scientific ethics into its complicated and often thrilling plot, the show successfully blends the gloominess of dystopic sci-fi with an uplifting spirit of camaraderie.

– Randy P. Schiff

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