Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Orphan Black and the New Face of Canadian Science Fiction

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on April 3, 2013. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.

Tatiana Maslany stars in Orphan Black, on BBC America and Space

If you love TV and live in Toronto (as I do), watching American television can often be a frustrating experience. As thrilled as I am that Toronto has established itself as the go-to site for American-produced film and TV, it is often impossible to watch an episode of a favourite series without feeling that the city is being slighted, an “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” feeling which gets called up whenever a signature Toronto location is passed off as a generic street in “Pick Your City”, USA. to single out just one recurring example, see the numerous uses of Daniel Libeskind’s striking crystalline extension to the Royal Ontario Museum in the background of scenes set in Chicago or DC. It is therefore especially gratifying when those norms are shaken up.

This past Sunday, Orphan Black aired its first episode, and on April 21, Showcase’s hit time-travel drama Continuum premieres its second season on Canadian airwaves; both shows are not only produced and filmed in Canada, but (with an appalling deficiency of that renowned Canadian humility) are also set here as well.

With Fringe, Alphas, and Eureka’s recent departures, there are barely any original science fiction series on the U.S. networks – TNT’s Falling Skies and SyFy’s always delightful Warehouse 13 are the only current exceptions. (There is, interestingly, no immediate shortage of fantasy stories: Grimm, Games of Thrones, Supernatural, True Blood and any of that long and growing list of vampire and werewolf shows are in constant rotation.) I won’t speculate on the reasons for the lack of success U.S. networks have had with science fiction shows in the last few years, even following up on the popular and critical successes of Battlestar Galactica and Lost. Whatever the causes, American viewers and cable networks have had to look beyond their borders to find new science fiction storytelling: across the pond to the UK (Doctor Who, Misfits, and the recent Utopia) and, perhaps most surprisingly, north to Canada. With two ambitious and entertaining series, Continuum and now the extremely promising Orphan Black, we are perhaps entering a minor golden age of Canadian science fiction programming.