Genre TV: a golden age or too much of a good thing?

It is a sad fact that there are too many great books in the world, of all genres, that I will never have time to read. I’m sure that I’m missing out on some life-changing classics, but there’s nothing I can do about that.

Star TrekWhen it comes to TV, though, there used to be a time when you could be up on all the great TV shows. For fans of all things sci-fi/supernatural/horror like myself, it wasn’t that hard, because there were so few TV shows that had a sci-fi or supernatural theme. Back in the 1950s you had The Twilight Zone and in the 1960s came The Outer Limits, Star Trek, and in England, Doctor Who. Along the way there were a smattering of other TV shows, notably the X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the ’90s, but with only a handful of networks (and the BBC in England) the options were severely limited.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

That’s all changed. Now there seems to be a new network popping up every week, along with new TV shows. When Lost premiered, it reinvigorated the genre by making it commercially and critically viable. As flawed as Lost was, the emmy-winning series showed the powers that be that genre shows could make money and win awards.


Since then, there’s been an explosion of genre shows. A few decades ago, who would have predicted that two of the most hyped television shows would include dragons and zombies? These two shows, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are worldwide cultural events. Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead bring more than just supernatural/fantastical/horror elements: they have high production values, are well acted, and have great writing.

Walking Dead

And these are just two of the latest and greatest. The past couple of decades have given us so many great genre shows, from SyFy’s Farscape and the Battlestar Galactica reboot, to BBC’s relaunched Doctor Who and BBC America’s Orphan Black. I should be happy, right?

Orphan Black Tatiana Maslany

In a way, I’m not. There are SO MANY genre shows out there I can’t keep up. And neither can the people who are writing them. The Walking Dead has given us the derivative Z Nation. The second season of SyFy’s Helix was a mess (a glorious, batshit crazy mess, but still a mess). And Netflix’s Hemlock Grove was half-baked camp. We’ve got a glut of genre shows out there, some of which should have never been made, and others that could have used a little more seasoning.

helixNot to mention that I don’t have the time to watch the vast majority. I’d love to watch The Strain, and there’s a new Salem TV show with Lucy Lawless that looks interesting. But between work, writing, play, family, how could I possibly fit all these shows into my life?

Maybe Hollywood needs to scale back a little — if not in the number of shows, then at least in the number of episodes. In the UK, it’s a common practice for TV shows to be short runs. Each season is perhaps six episodes, and the TV shows only run for a few seasons, if that. What you get is concise storytelling that does not require a lifetime commitment of the viewer. I’d fully support this idea; even the best shows suffer from episode bloat and could use some trimming (I’m looking at you, Walking Dead).

Orphan Black on the horizon

Arguable the best sci-fi show—if not the best show period—on TV, Orphan Black has been a masterpiece in terms of acting, character, and breakneck plotting. If it isn’t obvious, I love this show.


For those unaware, it follows a group of clones, all played brilliantly by Tatiana Maslany. These clones are stalked by several shadowy groups with competing agendas, all the while each clone navigates her own tumultuous world.

Last season’s cliffhanger lived up to the hype of Orphan Black as we learned that there are male clones as well (played by Ari Millen). I’ve read some commentary — Orphan Black has a vocal fanbase that appreciate the fact that the show focuses on strong female characters —  and there was disappointment about the introduction of male clones. I disagree. I’m excited by all the dramatic possibilities. Who knows where this will take the show? There are hints that the male clones will not exactly be friendly toward their female counterparts.

ari millen

But we’ll have to wait to see how this all plays out. Season 3 of Orphan Black is filming right now, and the show is expected to return in Spring 2015.

To hold us over, the powers that be have released a little teaser, an Orphan Black video of sorts. Check it out below.



The secret genius of Orphan Black

The BBC America cult hit series Orphan Black has fast-paced plotting and amazing acting, but it’s something more psychological that keeps viewers hooked.


I thank Doctor Who for introducing me to Orphan Black. A couple of years ago, BBC America aired Doctor Who at 9 pm. When 10 came around, I was too lazy to lift the remote and change the channel, so I left it on. The next show? A new Canadian-produced sci-fi show with the weird title of Orphan Black. It only took one episode to hook me.

Sarah ManningThe premise: Sarah Manning, a rough-around-the-edges London transplant living in Canada discovers by chance that she’s a clone. Together with fellow clones Alison, an uptight soccer mom, Cosima, a gay, hipster science nerd, and Sarah’s loyal foster brother Felix, she tries to unravel the mystery of her existence, while protecting herself and her young daughter, from sinister forces.

Orphan Black, if you haven’t guessed, is not your standard thriller.

What makes this show great is, first and foremost, the top-notch writing. Orphan Black moves at breakneck speed (sometimes too fast). Once it has you, it doesn’t let go. And it is unflinching in its violence.

And then there’s Tatiana Maslany. This actor is amazing. She plays each of the clones (I read that there’s been 12 accounted for, but we’ve only seen 9. Maslany has played all 9. Even when it’s just a brief portrayal, Maslany manages to impart a unique persona on each clone.


Often, though, the clones interact with each other in a single scene. Think about it: one actor playing 3 different parts in a five minute scene. She does more than just pull it off. We quickly forget that it’s only one actor who we’re seeing. And then there was the scene where Maslany played Alison impersonating Sarah. Brilliant.

But to me the secret appeal of Orphan Black lies in its premise: clones. Clones are really nothing more than identical twins — two (or more) genetically identical humans. But identical twins, while they share the same exact DNA, are often more dissimilar personality-wise than alike. The same with the clones in Orphan Black. You have clones ranging from rough-edged transgender Tony to the corporate ice queen Rachel. Genetics doesn’t equal destiny.

What Orphan Black gives us, on an unconscious level, is a “what if” moment. What if I’d been born rich/poor/unwanted/loved? What if I went to/never went to college? What if I got married/never got married? We all have lives that go unlived, even those of us who live to the max. Choices inevitably are made. In Orphan Black, we get to see one genetic code across a range of lives and situations and choices. Why is Sarah straight and Cosima gay? Why is Alison so uptight while Sarah is so free-wheeling?

Who knows? But playing along in this game is half the fun.