Intelligent sci-fi

A new Canadian thriller series is well worth watching.

Orphan Black (photo credit: Courtesy)
Orphan Black
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Canadian sci-fi thriller Orphan Black is highly addictive. It just started airing on HOT Zone and HOT VOD, and it’s already a hit around the world.
Although the description of it is as a sci-fi thriller might turn you off, it shouldn’t. This is thinking person’s science fiction, and it features amazingly clever plotting that maximizes suspense and wonderful acting. The dialogue is quite well written and even funny at times, which is rare in sci-fi, where even characters who are supposedly human often sound robotic as they spout expository dialogue. It’s difficult to discuss this show without using a single word that will spoil much of the first season’s suspense, so I’ll confine myself to a description of the first five minutes.
Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany), a tough, streetwise young woman wearing lots of dark eye makeup and thigh-high boots, is changing trains.
She makes a phone call where she discusses trying to win back custody of her daughter. We quickly learn she’s got a violent, drug-dealing boyfriend she needs to avoid and a gay foster brother who is her emotional support. A young woman at the opposite end of the platform takes off her high heels and sets her purse down. Sarah looks at her, and just before the woman jumps to her death in front of an oncoming train, Sarah sees that the woman looks exactly like her.
Stunned equally by the suicide and this bizarre coincidence, Sarah grabs the dead woman’s bag and gets out of there. Desperate for money, she goes through the woman’s wallet and realizes that the woman was quite well off. She concocts a scheme with her foster brother: He will identify the body of the dead woman as Sarah, and she will assume her wealthier lookalike’s identity, at least for as long as it takes to clean out her bank accounts. With that money, she can grab her daughter and take her away somewhere. But her doppelganger turns out to have been a police detective accused of killing someone in the line of duty.
And then it gets complicated.
Even if you’ve guessed the plot twist that drives the story, don’t worry, you’ll still be on the edge of your seat. Maslany, a young Canadian actress who has worked mostly in television, as well as in films such as Eastern Promises, is the revelation of this series. She plays many characters as it progresses, and she has a face and a screen presence that make you want to keep watching her.
WE ALL know about Silicon Valley (and many of us have seen the HBO series by that name that is currently in its first season on YES Oh). In the 1990s, there was also Silicon Alley, the New York version of Startup Nation, and here in Israel there is Silicon Wadi. But who knew there was a Silicon Prairie? That’s the setting for the newest series Halt and Catch Fire from AMC, the network that brought us Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. It takes place in the early 1980s, when three people in the burgeoning Texas computer industry challenged the status quo with their vision of a different kind of computing. The show will premiere in early June on YES Oh, so we’ll have to wait until then to see what it’s like, but there’s been a lot of positive buzz about it already.
RUSSIA’S FOREIGN politics have been in the news recently following its takeover of the Crimea, but domestic politics there are also quite imperialist. The new documentary Raiders, by Alexander Gentlev, the filmmaker who made Putin’s Games (an expose of the massive corruption surrounding the Sochi Olympics), Oligarchs and several other films, is a look at how corporations in Russia, backed by the government and the oligarchs, steal private citizens’ land. It will be aired on May 18 at 9 p.m. on Channel 1 and Channel 511 (the HD channel).