I watch a lot of British television–a lot for an American, that is–and not just on BBC America. I watch Masterpiece Theater, I subscribe to Acorn TV, and I even buy DVDs direct from the UK so I can see some shows not available any other way (“New Tricks” is a good example). But there’s one thing I hate about British television series: They’re too damned short.
Now that my beloved “Ripper Street” has completed its stingy 8-episode Season One, I was jonesing for a new series. I saw the ads for the new show called “Orphan Black,” but to be honest, I wasn’t going to watch. Then an advert for the opening 3-minutes popped up on my Facebook feed and I thought, why not?
In the first minutes, we meet Sara (Tatiana Maslany) at a train station somewhere near New York City. She’s a Brit, and she has serious problems. But whatever she’s up against, it’s nothing compared to the what’s bothering that woman over there, crying at the end of the train platform. Sara goes over to the woman, and discovers that the woman looks just like her…right before the woman steps in front of the oncoming train. Sara, distraught, has a moment of panic, then a moment of clarity; she grabs the dead woman’s purse and flees the scene.
That’s the three-minute setup, and it was pretty good. Good enough, in fact, to get me to plunk it on the DVR and watch the whole episode.
Is it as good as “Ripper Street”? No. Is it better than most things on American network television? Yes.
One thing I like about British television is the way it allows for adult content without apologizing or trying to be clever about it. Thus we have a couple utterances of “shit” and have some full buttock revelation as characters move about the more intimate parts of their lives. We have gay characters who are unabashed and un-stereotypical, and we have actors in leading roles who are not just impossibly beautiful.
The writing is okay, but only okay, with a specific flaw being that Brits just don’t write American too well sometimes. At one point an East Coast cop tells Sara to “go to the washroom and get yourself sorted.” While washroom can be excused–it’s more a Canadian phrase than American, but it’s used–the “get yourself sorted” was just so British that the entire scene went ka-BOI-oi-oing. But that’s a relatively small complaint.
Of course, with modern settings and a combination of working-class and low-life characters, you’re not going to get the quality of prose one expects from an educated Victorian intellectual, so let’s just say that the writing, while not stellar, at least fits the setting. And they did get actors who could do a passable American accent (if not actual Americans). I can’t tell you how many British shows have an American who drops his accent twice in every scene.
Things move along quickly in “Orphan Black,” so that by the end of the first episode, Sara is involved in a full-blown conspiracy and things just got really complicated. I don’t know if it will be able to hold me for 11 episodes, but I’m going to give it at least three. It’s still better, sharper, and more intelligent than almost any one-hour drama on American networks.