Orphan Black and involuntary improv

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.  

2 thoughts on “Orphan Black and involuntary improv

  1. Richard Altman

    Reconsiderings on Subjective (Inevitability) Objectivity Number Two:
    Anesthesia: Since Sputnik and the satellites, the planet is enclosed in a man made environment that end “nature” and turns the globe into a repertory theater to be programmed. Shakespeare at the Globe mentioning “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7) has been justified by recent events in ways that would have struck him as entirely paradoxical. The results of living inside a proscenium arch of satellites is that the young now accept the public spaces of the earth as role-playing areas. Sensing this, they adopt costumes and roles and are ready to ‘do their thing’ everywhere. Shakespeare;s Eliot in “O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag-/It’s so elegant/So intelligent.” The ‘rag’ or syncopated jazz catches up the theme of the new global unity created in the twenties by the international acceptance of jazz. It ‘cocks a snoot’ at the rag-and-bone shop of the global waste land of Shakespeare & Co., or the international translations of the Shakespearean archetypes.

    can you guess where this quote is from ?

  2. Mike Wagner

    Does the theme of “forced transformation” extend to include “forced community” and “forced collaboration”?

    I first really felt this them via HBO’s Deadwood.

    Always always, thanks for sharing your insight. Always get’s my mind racing!

    Keep creating…it’s more fun that way,

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