Tatiana Maslany won much-deserved Best Actress honors at Thursday night’s Critic’s Choice Awards for her stirring performance(s) in BBC America’s criminally under-watched sci-fi drama Orphan Black.
Having the somewhat misleading moniker “science-fiction” slapped onto a title can be damning for a television show vying for a wider viewership and serious critical consideration. Orphan Black is undeniably, unquestionably, and unabashedly science-fiction, but it isn’t just science-fiction. A bleak but brazen drama about a young woman who discovers she’s a clone, the product of ambiguous eugenics experiments performed by (who else?) shadowy conglomerates, Orphan Black is as concerned with familial relationships, the constrictive template of suburban living, and the stigma of “alternative lifestyles” as it is with test tubes, entanglements of cables and wires, conspiratorial agents, and other sci-fi staples.
Created by Graeme Manson and John Fawcett, the show takes place in Canada, which looks an awful lot like any Midwestern state in America, or in any metropolitan area on the coast. The setting is, essentially, Generica, and what matters here isn’t the where as much as the who and why.
Whereas the other twistiest show on television, The Killing, uses the grungy, sordid, back-alley streets of Seattle and its surrounding woodlands (which look like the settings of the Brothers Grimm’s nightmares) to lend an air of reality to its otherwise brooding, histrionic escapism, Orphan Black uses its ambiguous setting and its various accent, styles, fashion to depict the modern world and the ever-thickening interlacing of cultures.