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Orphan Black: Season One(TV) (2012)
Orphan Black follows Sarah, an outsider and orphan whose life changes dramatically after witnessing the suicide of a woman who looks just like her. Sarah assumes her identity, her boyfriend and her bank account. But instead of solving her problems, the street smart chameleon is thrust headlong into a kaleidoscopic mystery. She makes the dizzying discovery that she and the dead woman are clones... but are they the only ones? Sarah quickly finds herself caught in the middle of a deadly conspiracy and must race to find answers about who she is and how many others there are just like her.
For more about Orphan Black: Season One and the Orphan Black: Season One Blu-ray release, see Orphan Black: Season One Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on February 24, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Tatiana Maslany, Jordan Gavaris, Dylan Bruce, Kevin Hanchard, Michael Mando, Maria Doyle Kennedy
» See full cast & crew
Orphan Black: Season One Blu-ray Review
"You're different from the others..."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, February 24, 2014
Orphan Black doesn't so much feel like an exciting new original series as it does one genetically engineered to take Comic-Con by storm. All that meticulous design and micro-tinkering comes at a price, though: the show spends so much of its first season life cycle grasping at unpredictable straws that when it finally grabs hold of a few genuine surprises it still seems overly contrived. And yet an incredibly diverse and altogether effective performance from series keystone Tatiana Maslany (who tackles seven, count 'em, seven startlingly different clones by season's end), a tantalizing mythos oozing with mystery, intrigue and betrayal, and a solid supporting cast makes Orphan Black one to watch. Yeah, yeah. I know. It takes too long to hit its stride, ends far too early, and repeats itself a bit too often. But it's hard to deny the addiction that grows with each passing episode. If you aren't a fan come the finale, "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" -- even if sheer curiosity is all you have to show for your investment -- best check your pulse. Or at the very least, your Comic-Con credentials. They may have expired.
You'll have to excuse smalltime con-artist Sarah Manning (Maslany) for her latest scam: stealing the identity of a detective who killed herself by leaping in front of a train. The detective, Beth Childs, was a dead ringer for Sarah. And not just a dead ringer. Sarah soon discovers she's one of an unknown number of clones, each one with a completely different personality than the next. There's Alison Hendrix, a prim, proper and tightly wound soccer mom to two adopted children; Cosima Niehaus, a calm, collected biology student, PhD candidate and computer genius; and Helena, a murderous religious fanatic hellbent on tracking down and killing clones. As more clones bubble to the surface, Sarah is faced with a conundrum. Stay and possibly uncover her origins with the help of her sister clones, or go on the run with her daughter, Kira (Skyler Wexler), and get as far away from the madness as she can manage.
Standing in her way is Siobhan Sadler (Maria Doyle Kennedy), her former foster mother, now charged with caring for Kira until Sarah can prove herself a fit mother; Vic (Michael Mando), Sarah's abusive ex-boyfriend; Beth's partner, now Sarah's partner, Detective Art Bell (Kevin Hanchard); Angela Deangelisa (Inga Cadranel), a nosy and impatient detective who doesn't trust "Beth"s account of recent events; Paul Dierden (Dylan Bruce), Beth's boyfriend and "monitor," an agent assigned to closely, sometimes intimately observe one of the clones; and the shady Dr. Aldous Leekie (Matt Frewer), who may or may not have a deeper connection to the clones. It's no simple task, but with the help of her gay foster brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris) and her fellow clones, Sarah might just find answers to all her questions and escape in one piece.
Orphan Black may be a perfect fit for BBC America's Supernatural Saturday block, but the series is actually a Canadian property from Bell Media and Temple Street Productions. If neither of those names ring a bell, don't fret. There's a reason BBC Worldwide picked up the show for distribution: quality. Though a modestly budgeted TV production through and through, the showrunners demonstrate just how good they are at stretching a dollar (or pound, if you prefer), so much so that it's all too easy to forget just how sparsely populated most scenes really are. Maslany (with the help of the show's FX, makeup, costume and prosthetic departments) creates such convincing, wholly unique versions of herself that I continually had to remind myself I was watching a single actress. Each clone is so dramatically different from the next that Black's quote-unquote gimmick is quickly revealed to be anything but, allowing the story to rise above what could have merely been a slick premise. The remaining cast are quite talented too -- particularly Gavaris, Kennedy, Bruce, Frewer and Brochu -- and only a handful of supporting players fall flat (Hanchard, whose gruff tough-guy grimacing gets old fast, and Cadranel, whose overacting is almost as bad as Hanchard's).
It takes an awful long time to get anywhere, though. The series hits the ground running with a suicide and revelation that promises great things to come, but those things are sloooow in the making. Worse, you can see most of them coming a mile off, meaning we viewers are constantly waiting for the characters to catch up with what we already know. There's a welcome shift at the halfway mark, when the first season begins to pull ahead and demand its fans keep pace. Just reign in those early expectations. By the time the clones' lives are being turned rightside up and inside out, the series slips into a groove and starts to have some fun. The more pressure that's put on Sarah and her genetic siblings, the more Orphan Black lives up to its potential. It's still a bit kitschy from time to time, especially as detectives Bell and Deangelis scramble to put two and two... or five and five together, but it's ultimately worth all the trials and toiling. As Season One reaches its conclusion -- a whopper of a cliffhanger -- clarity is a rare commodity. And yet one thing becomes abundantly clear by the time the first season wraps: most everyone watching will be itching for a second season. Fortunately, Season Two is due in 2014. It could still fall apart, of course. But I suspect what few reservations I still have will be dispatched in short order. Flawed as it was, I can't wait to see where Orphan Black takes Sarah and the clones next.
Orphan Black: Season One Blu-ray, Video Quality
Orphan Black: Season One features a strong, sexy 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that, barring a few fairly negligible issues, doesn't falter. Colors are intentionally pale and subdued, with a palette that typically skews a shade of sickly green or diseased yellow. Skintones are relatively well-saturated, given the series' style, and black levels are deep and menacing (minus a handful of muted nighttime scenes and overly oppressive shadows). Detail is also excellent, with a finely grained cinematic quality that does a nice job combating the pitfalls of its HD video source. Edges are clean and naturally defined, textures are crisp and pleasing to the eye (midrange shots especially), and delineation is exactly as it should be; revealing at times, secretive at others. Moreover, artifacting and banding are kept to the barest of minimums, significant aliasing and ringing aren't at play, and brief bursts of unwieldy noise and intermittent crush are the only two pseudo-eyesores of note. (Although neither amounts to a distraction.) All in all, any anomaly that appears is either minor or traceable to the series' source. The first season's video presentation doesn't disappoint.
Orphan Black: Season One Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Season One's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track doesn't make as much of an impact as its video presentation, but no matter: Orphan Black's lossless mix still has plenty of fight. The LFE channel is tough and reliable, lending weight and presence to an already tense, atmosphere-driven soundscape. Action isn't exactly a series priority, though, so low-end output tends to be more restrained than newcomers might expect. The same could be said of the rear speakers, which offer convincing directional effects and smooth pans, yet typically busy themselves with little more than light ambience and the show's score whenever the clones strike up conversation. More action-packed beats still impress, few and far between as they are, and the soundfield is quite engaging, despite a lack of any unforgettable standout scenes. Even so, dynamics are noteworthy and dialogue is always clear, well-prioritized and neatly grounded in the mix. All told, mood and mystery trump aggression and power, but I doubt Orphan Black could sound any better than it does here.
Orphan Black: Season One Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Orphan Black: Season One Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Built from the ground up for the Comic-Con masses, Orphan Black delivers... mostly. A slow start and some iffy supporting performances taint what's an otherwise sharp, high-concept series with an electrifying lead performance, or rather performances, from actress Tatiana Maslany, who proves herself invaluable at every turn. So while the first season isn't without its flaws, I reached the series' endgame with high hopes for Season Two and an insatiable curiosity about what comes next. BBC Home Entertainment's Blu-ray release, meanwhile, is a strong one, with an excellent video presentation and a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. Supplements are a touch light, sure, but there's enough here to justify a purchase.
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