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'Orphan Black': Where Mad Science and Reality Meet

Shantella Y. Sherman | 4/24/2013, 9 p.m.
"Orphan Black" forces audiences to imagine life on the edge of reality.

Clever is as clever does... so despite a distinct level of reticence about falling in love with yet another BBC America program, enter "Orphan Black." With the same nose-thumbing and boundary pushing as earlier programming like "The Hour," "Being Human," and "Copper," "Orphan Black" forces audiences to imagine life on the edge of reality.

Petty criminal Sarah Manning watches a woman – who could pass as her identical twin – jump from a train platform in front of a moving train. Instead of being traumatized, Manning steals the dead woman's purse in the hopes of robbing her home and cleaning out her bank accounts. What ensues is a comedy of errors that lead Manning to impersonate the deceased – later found to be police officer Beth Childs and one of several human clones.

Manning, assumes Childs' life, taking possession of her home, boyfriend, and career. However, Childs' secrets prove deadly and she comes face to face with soccer mom Alison, tech geek Cosima, Russian playgirl Katja, and the deranged Helena – all bearing her likeness and looking for answers. Under the guise of being a cop, Manning is always one wrong step from being discovered a fraud by her partner, Art – played by the ever-dishy Kevin Hanchard.

"'Orphan Black' sets itself up as a standard police procedural right off the top and you watch it and you think it's a "Law and Order," CSI-type show, then it starts to deviate down a path that I don't think any network prime-time show or cable show has really gone down before," said Hanchard.

"Art is a tough-as-nails, hardline sort of cop. He's a hard-ass, but there's also affection there bubbling below the surface."

"Orphan Black" is both exciting and ambitious in its treatment of new technology and science. Unlike the doppelgangers of German folk stories, the idea of meeting clones of oneself reminds viewers that the 1996 cloning of "Dolly the Sheep," the first animal cloned from an adult somatic cell at The Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, was hardly the endgame.

Human cloning is not only possible, but probable and "Orphan Black" demonstrates a worst-case scenario that keeps audiences glued to their seats.

Actress Tatiana Maslany is fabulous as Sarah (Beth, Alison, Cosima, Katja, and Helena). Maslany moves from one character to others, fluidly, often playing dual and triple roles at once. One of the most memorable scenes by far shows the scope of Maslany's acting when Alison, Cosima, and Sarah work an extended scene. Audiences soon forget that the Brit, the Geek, and the Persnickety Soccer Mom are the singular actress.

Jordan Gavaris ("Degrassi") is golden as Manning's brother Felix. A struggling artist, Felix, like Manning, is street smart, a natural hustler, and blindly allegiant to his sister.

"Orphan Black" is executive produced by Ivan Schneeberg and David Fortier, Graeme Manson, and John Fawcett. The drama is co-created by Manson and Fawcett, with Manson also serving as writer and Fawcett as director.

"Orphan Black" is the latest addition to the BBC America Supernatural Saturday programming block.