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BBC America’s ‘Orphan Black’ develops its female characters

By Ellen Gray
Philadelphia Daily News
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/04/28/14/43/NU3Fr.Em.138.jpeg|316
    Steve Wilkie - BBC AMERICA
    Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) and her foster brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris) in “Orphan Black.”
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/04/28/14/42/7BjlK.Em.138.jpeg|423
    Valerie Macon - Getty Images
    Actress Tatiana Maslany

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    ORPHAN BLACK

    9 p.m. Saturday, BBC America



Think how much easier it would be for Hollywood if someone cloned Tatiana Maslany.

BBC America’s Peabody Award-winning “Orphan Black,” which returned for a second season, not only has more fully developed female characters than many TV dramas – it has Maslany playing most of them.

Which is easy to forget when two or more of the clones are gathered, because whatever their identical natures, they are, as played by Maslany, entirely separate human beings.

I hope she’s paid accordingly.

I came late to “Orphan Black.” Maybe the gloom of the pilot turned me off at a time when nearly every screener that crossed my desk seemed to be steeped in darkness, and the story of a grifter who assumes the identity of a woman who’d just thrown herself in front of a train seemed unlikely to subtract from the misery.

Maybe I’d just reached my sci-fi limit that month.

But though I had to be bullied into giving it the second chance that led to an obsessive few days of binge-viewing (other latecomers can find it on Amazon Instant Video), I’m here now.

I don’t want to spoil the new episodes, but “Orphan Black” will continue to be more than just a cool acting exercise for Maslany. And while Sarah, Alison, Cosima, Rachel and whoever shows up next looking a bit like Maslany are the main attractions, they’re not the only reason to watch.

There’s Maria Doyle Kennedy (“The Tudors”), who plays Mrs. S, the foster mother of the grifter Sarah and her foster brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris), and the woman who’s been raising Sarah’s daughter, Kira (Skyler Wexler). Mrs. S is fierce.

I’ve grown very fond of Felix, whose growing friendship with my favorite clone, the soccer mom Alison, is a bright spot in what’s still a pretty dark show.

I’m still not sure how much I buy of the overarching conspiracy that will have Sarah on the run from more than one set of bad guys – the action in “Orphan Black” doesn’t leave a lot of time for over-thinking these things – but for those up for a serious bioethics discussion, the openings are there.

Strip out the just barely science-fiction elements, and “Orphan Black” still has plenty to say about the struggle between nature and nurture, and about the many ways that human beings can be bound by more than DNA.

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