Tatiana Maslany, Canada’s Greatest Export

It’s no secret that I adore Orphan Black. It had so much happening that it got kind of hard to keep track sometimes, but the lead actress was so consistently good, it never mattered. There wasn’t a single scene in which she wasn’t excellent.

Seeing other actors talk about her is incredible:

(Ignore that Patrick J Adams is on that list twice. He’s right.)

Most actors experience a kind of hype backlash. Almost inevitably, there’ll be a small contingent of people that call whichever actor overrated or a bad actor. No actor is universally loved. But Tatiana Maslany’s acting was so spectacular, I’ve never seen anyone claiming she can’t act. (After typing this, I even Googled it to see if I could find someone saying that – no dice.)

She didn’t just provide one Emmy worthy performance – she played multiple vastly different characters, every performance unique and excellent without being caricatures, exaggerated to show off their differences. With Orphan Black, she probably made it impossible to type cast her as anything.

Maslany was the heart and soul of the show. Without her, it would have been a mess. She (and the makeup/costume people) did such a great job differentiating the clones that there were times I forgot they were all played by the same person. There was a running joke in the fandom that when one of the clones wasn’t in an episode, it was because they couldn’t get the actress. There are such clear distinctions between, say, Sarah, Alison, Sarah pretending to be Alison,  and Alison pretending  to be Sarah, that it sometimes seems more likely that they’re just members of a super talented family than it is that just one person is doing it all.

I always struggle with the question “who’s your favourite actress”. It’s a tough question, there are so many good ones. But I might have an easier time with it if I actually remembered that I can answer with Tatiana Maslany.

For some reason, I often forget that Maslany is a potential answer to that question. I don’t know why – maybe it’s just because of Orphan Black‘s relatively small audience, or the fact that I subconsciously think about actors that work primarily in movies when asked that question, but I think there’s a bigger reason. And that’s that I didn’t even think about the huge amount of effort going into filming a scene between multiple clones while watching – I just saw it as a drama. Maslany did such a good job I forgot about the fact she was doing it at all. That’s talent.

 

Hollywood has a lot of excellent actors from Canada, but the thing with most of these actors is, they’re not heavily associated with Canada, unlike Maslany. Most Canadian actors move south of the border immediately. Until very recently, Maslany was based in Canada and focused on Canadian projects. Most actors need years and a large number of projects to demonstrate that kind of range. Maslany did it in a single episode of Orphan Black.

I’m making the argument right now – Tatiana Maslany is Canada’s best actor because of 1) how convincing she is in every role, 2) the fact that she’s a recognizably Canadian actor, not just an actor that happens to be from Canada, and 3) the way she’s good enough to make the audience forget she’s playing against herself. 1 and 3 may basically be the same point, but it bears repeating – Maslany is the greatest, and I can’t wait to see whatever she’s in next.

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5 Shows That Need More Love

1. Better Off Ted

This is just hilarious – a man with a conscience works for a cartoonishly evil corporation. It’s a typical sitcom with a quirky cast, but what’s great is that it recognizes the comedic sociopathy that’s often relied upon in the genre and instead of glossing over how creepy it is, leans into it for comedy.

All the hard work, late nights, and no rest have paid off. We’ve cured sleepessness! And demonstrated irony.

better off ted

 

2. Orphan Black

orphan black poster

So it had a devoted fanbase that was sufficiently large that it got to complete the narrative arc without getting cancelled. Still doesn’t mean it gets as much love as it should.

Admittedly, part of the reason I love this show is Canadian pride, because it’s my little Canadian sci-fi drama that could. It made no attempts to disguise the fact that it’s Canadian. It’s more than just filmed in Canada – it’s set there. For once, Toronto isn’t the stand in city. Canadian shows usually don’t get much traction in the U.S. This one isn’t really that much of an exception, because viewership was pretty low throughout all five seasons, but it is a head and shoulders above the rest in quality.

It’s one of my favourite shows, but even I won’t argue that its plot or writing alone is worth it. No, what pushes it over the edge to must see territory is the combined work of its absolutely brilliant lead actress, Tatiana Maslany; the excellent costume and makeup departments; and a genius visual effects team that do such a great job, you forget it’s just one actress playing half the lead roles.

3. The Gifted

the gifted poster

Look, I know I talk about how much The Gifted a ridiculous amount – both in regards to what I like about it and what I don’t – and it naturally gets some amount of attention just by virtue of being a superhero property, but its ratings aren’t great, and as such, I think I can stick it on this list.

It’s a lot like Gotham – just as Gotham started off as a Batman show without Batman, The Gifted is an X-Men show without the X-Men. Sure, it’s more grounded than Gotham, and closer to a regular drama than a black comedy, but the principle is the same. People didn’t think Gotham would work, but it did, carving its own place by completely throwing away whichever parts of canon it didn’t feel like using. The Gifted is doing just that, and it’s beautiful to watch.

4. White Teeth

You know those books you read in high school that are good but you somehow don’t much like, probably because you’re reading them in high school? Zadie Smith’s White Teeth was one of those for me. I don’t even remember which year I read it – junior, maybe? The whole book was a blur. I didn’t remember any of it, only being kind of bored while reading, and a little confused because there were a whole lot of characters and it was hard to keep them straight. But I recently found my copy while doing some cleaning, and whoa. A whole lot happened, and it was a way better read than I remembered.

The adaptation was a miniseries, not a full length one, but it was surprisingly excellent. It’s funny and moving in turn, with lots of great performances – and even if it’s not for you, it’s only a four hour commitment.

5. The Good Place

This is my favourite sitcom, bar none. Mike Schur co-created Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and while I like those well enough, The Good Place is in its own league.

the good place

Ethical dilemmas? All kinds of comedy? Characters with a wide range of strengths and flaws? The Good Place has it all! It’s gentle to its characters with next to no mean-spirited  jokes at any single character’s expense; there are times when it’s so well plotted, it feels like a good drama, and not a sitcom; the characters’ struggles, flaws, and insecurities are all taken seriously and it doesn’t make the show any less funny. What’s not to love?

 

Orphan Black: Goodbye to Five Seasons of Beautiful Sci-Fi

Orphan Black is ending today, and I’m torn between sadness that it’s going to end when I need a story about female empowerment more than ever and happiness that it happened at all, and that they knew not to try and push it past the time it should end. A lot of great shows overstay their welcome and drag out longer than they should, past the point of being good and into the land of being made for the sake of being made. It makes me really happy that Orphan Black isn’t doing that. They’re wrapping up the story, and while I’ll inevitably be sad it’s over, I’ll be happy that it was amazing while it lasted.

Orphan Black, my little Canadian sci-fi drama that could have been terrible, but was amazing instead. It was so nice to see a show filmed in Toronto that admitted that it was set in Canada – I practically cheered when Felix said it outright. It was obvious to anyone from Ontario that it was Canadian. Everything from Alison’s home in Scarborough to the money to the trillium driver’s licenses were easily identifiable. With how many shows are filmed in Toronto but that pretend to be some American city or the other, it was nice to finally have something that was Canadian.

It’s not hugely popular. It’s no The Walking Dead, or anything like that. It’s got a hugely devoted fanbase, but not a broad one. But it’s a story about women’s right to bodily autonomy. It’s about deeply flawed people that make choices both good and bad, that are far from perfect, but still sympathetic and fundamentally decent. It’s about nature vs nurture and found families. It’s about earning your happy ending and refusing to give up no matter what. It’s about how broken, traumatized, depressed people are still worthy of love and happiness. It’s a celebration of what it means to be human – one of the key questions of science fiction – and for that, it means so much to me and always will.

There are issues that I have with Orphan Black, same as with everything, and I’m vocal about those issues, but there’s so much heart in everything to do with the show, that it’s easy to still enjoy it despite those issues. Like the characters it depicts, the show is flawed, but it’s trying to be better. It’s so strange to think that tonight will be the last episode before it’s over. Five seasons. So many characters and arcs.

The characters have always been my favourite part of the show – they’re all so different and multifaceted. They all have very interesting and unique dynamics with each other. That’s even more impressive when half the characters are played by one woman, and those characters interact with each other without ever sounding the same. This is done well enough that I often forget that they’re all one person. Making that seem real requires very skilled visual effects people and a spectacular lead actress. It was a technical masterpiece as well as beautifully written and wonderfully acted. I’m going to miss this so much.

It’s time to say goodbye to these characters that have spent years being unashamedly themselves – real, flawed, not always likeable, but oh so human. It’s great to know that I’ll be able to look back not with disappointment because it’s a show that had more seasons than it should have and declined in quality, or because it got cancelled before it could wrap up the story that it meant to tell, but a little wistful happiness because I’ll miss it, but it ran just as long as it should have. Thank you, Orphan Black. It’s been amazing.