Huffpost TV

'Orphan Black' Review: Clones Return With Lots Of Energy, New Friends And New Enemies

Posted: Updated:
Print Article
ORPHAN BLACK
Tatiana Maslany as Sarah in 'Orphan Black.' | BBC America

A year later, I can still pinpoint a slew of my favorite moments from the first season of "Orphan Black."

Those moments include, but are not limited to, Helena dancing at Club Neolution; that guy's tail getting chopped off; Felix saying or doing anything (but he was particularly great when hanging out with Alison); Sarah impersonating Alison (and vice versa); Alison glue-gunning Donny; Helena and Sarah having a deeply weird lunch together (Jello!); Alison sniffily cleaning Felix's apartment; and Cosima nerding out about science and falling for that hot French lady.

I could go on, but you get the idea. At its best, in its first season, the show perked along on a caffeinated mixture of thriller-ish left turns and biomedical mysteries, but what activated "Orphan Black" and made it truly addictive were its distinctive characters and their tangled, meaty relationships. The DNA connections among the clones gave the proceedings a fresh and thoughtful twist, but there were a host of other attractions, most of which related to the characters discovering things about themselves and each other, not just dissecting their double helixes. The show did a number of things well, but what it did best was create an array of characters I really enjoyed hanging out with.

Now the second season has arrived, and it works just fine on a plot level, but it takes a while for the relationships and personalities to pop the way they did in Season 1. In its second season, "Orphan Black" spends a lot of its early episodes resetting the table, and there are undoubtedly logical reasons for that. Hats off to the creative team for recognizing that they could not simply clone the show's first season -- that would have been disappointing. This season of "Orphan Black" must acknowledge that more is known about the Dyad Institute and the clones' past and it has to build on those revelations.

As a result, the first few episodes of the season appear to be particularly concerned with setting an energetic pace and introducing a slew of new characters and settings. The truth is, while I applaud those initiatives in theory, in practice, these initiatives scatter the clones and let some of the air out of the bustling clone-iverse. Sometimes I just wanted to go back to Club Neolution.

If, like my husband, you're attracted to the simmering, semi-grimy atmosphere and the tick-tock storytelling, Season 2 of "Orphan Black" may well be everything you dreamed of. If you are greatly attracted to those hangout moments, though, the first few episodes of the new season may require an adjustment or two.

It goes without saying that Tatiana Maslany plays each of the clones so flawlessly that I usually forgot that one actress was taking on all those roles. That is as it should be. Thinking about how the trick is done is not what you want to be doing in Maslany's scenes; the viewer need to feel for the plight of whatever clone or clones are on screen, and Maslany makes that easy to do.

And as much as I loved the first season of "Orphan Black," it had some pacing issues, especially early in its run. The show does not make that mistake again, but at times, it veers into overcorrecting. The first couple of episodes feel a little frenetic at times, and while some elements that develop the backstory of Mrs. S. (Maria Doyle Kennedy) are welcome, events taking place at a new story line set a rural compound sometimes slow things to a crawl.

There are couple of new characters who are welcome additions to the clone club (one of them is pictured in this slide show), and of course, Jordan Gavaris is unfailingly great as Felix, whose eyeliner is never astray, whatever his predicament. The show's distinctive vibe -- a mixture of street-rat survival techniques, crunchy science, black humor and high-tech malevolence -- is still a draw.

And all those fanastic "Orphan Black" Season 1 moments I mentioned? Unless I'm mistaken, most of them took place in the second half of that season. The show started out promisingly last year, but what sent most of us into orbit and what set Tumblr on fire was the show's heady mixture of pathos, humor, noir storytelling, biotech futurism and brilliant acting, all of which came together terrifically in the latter stages of Season 1.

This show is clearly still evolving, and the many good things it has going for it earned it a whole lot of trust in my book. So if, in the early going, I had to recalibrate my expectations a bit and wait for the show to slide into the modes I prefer, I am okay with that. All four episodes were quite watchable, but there are some scenes and sequences in the third and especially the fourth episode that made me recall the delirious, addictive strangeness of Season 1.

The weight of expectations on this new season were great, and if this plucky show staggers a little under that weight, that's understandable. I'm fully on board for Season 2, and I have every reason to believe "Orphan Black" will keep evolving in the direction of perfection. Science demands it.

"Orphan Black" returns Saturday at 9 p.m. EDT on BBC America.

For more on the second season of "Orphan Black," check out HuffPost TV's interview with Tatiana Maslany and a set visit report from my colleague Chris Jancelewicz.

Ryan McGee and I talked about "Orphan Black" and "Fargo" in a recent Talking TV podcast, which is here, on iTunes and below.

Around the Web

Orphan Black - Season 1 Reviews - Metacritic

'Orphan Black' season two delves into ethics