Orphan Black, the new show on BBC America (Saturday at 9:00 Eastern) is a pleasure. The theme is multiplicity, the writing is good, the acting is strong.
Seven women discover themselves to be clones. They are genetically identical. But that’s where their similarities end.
Raised in different circumstances, countries and cultures, the “orphans” manage to represent some of the great diversity of the contemporary world.
These differences are enough to force them apart. But someone is trying to kill the clones so they are now obliged to work together.
Saturday, the “soccer mom” clone must stand in for the “Punk” clone. She must persuade everyone that she is the mother of the Punk’s daughter. (The daughter spots her immediately. ”You’re not my mother.”)
The soccer mom has an hour to get ready for her big performance, an hour to throw off suburban nicities and take on a brawling, street-smart cynicism. She is aided by the Punk’s brother who says something like “Oh, God, this calls for a complete reverse Pygmalion.”
It’s one of those lovely moments, where an actress playing one person must now play that person playing a second person. Hats off to Tatiana Maslany, the very gifted actress who plays the clones.
The theme here is forced transformation, aka involuntary improv. As Orphan Black assumes the identity of another clone, the challenges come fast and furious. In rapid succession, she discovers that she has an American accent, a stylish condo, a dolt for a boyfriend, $75,000 sitting in the bank, a career as a police detective, and that she is under investigation for a crime she can only guess at.
In the title of the best book on improv, Orphan Black must deliver “something wonderful right away.” This is improv in real time, under unforgiving pressure, with dire consequences attending failure.
I believe we are seeing this theme more and more in contemporary culture because it is more and more a theme in contemporary life. Increasingly, it’s what life is like.
For more on this argument, see my book Transformations, on Amazon, by clicking here.