First, congratulations to rhube who joins a very small group of people in the category of ‘people I follow on social media who’ve been nominated for a Hugo’. And Speculative Fiction 2012 is a good read, which I’m steadily working through at the moment.
But the main thing I wanted to comment on was the Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) nominations where people appear to expecting another battle between the various forms of Doctor Who that are nominated and Game Of Thrones, but have missed the other nominee in the list. If I have a vote in this - and I haven’t decided if I’m going to go to Loncon or not yet - it’ll go to Orphan Black's 'Variations Under Domestication'.
Orphan Black was one of the best TV series of 2013 and for me it’s impact was all the bigger because it came out of nowhere. From the outside, it looks like a lot of other similar SF-esque shows. It’s filmed in Canada (though for once, actually set there too) on a relatively small budget and has plucked ‘cloning’ from the Big Tub Of SF Issues To Base A Series On. What it has, though, is a couple of things that many other series don’t have: writers who’ve created some fascinating characters to tell their story, and Tatiana Maslany to play those characters.
'Variations Under Domestication' is a great example of this, and while it's not necessarily the 'best' episode of the series, it shows what Orphan Black as a series and Tatiana Maslany as an actress can do very well and unlike any other series currently on the air. It takes a pretty dark central story - a woman determined to find the truth when she thinks the person she trusts most of all is betraying her - and then puts that plot into the middle of a farce as a number of plots all find themselves crashing through a suburban gathering. And at the heart of it, Maslany’s delivering three different performances - Sarah, Alison and Sarah-pretending-to-be-Alison - that are distinctive, believable and tie the whole episode together. It’s all unlike anything else on TV, and fantastically entertaining.
At the beginning of the series you’re aware that it’s one actress playing multiple roles, but by the end of it, it’s easy to forget that, so distinctive are they and so well directed and produced in the series that they appear to be interacting without any apparent special effects. There’s one episode where a character’s missing for an episode, and the excuse given made it feel a bit like ‘the actor wasn’t available, quickly rewrite it’ which I was thinking for a moment, until I realised that excuse was being given to a character played by the same actor. All of the clones have been created as distinct characters, not cyphers, and Maslany plays each one differently. It’s a remarkable acting performance, and deserves a much wider audience.
And finally, it’s an important series because it’s centred around giving agency and power in the story to the female characters. I’m wondering, actually, if it fails a reverse-Bechdel test. Sure, it’s got male characters, and they do sometimes talk to each other, but are there any conversations between them that aren’t about a woman? I’m not sure there are that many, if any, in the series and it’s a very interesting change from the usual pattern for TV.
So go watch Orphan Black before everyone else gets there first.
I haven’t seen Orphan Black yet - I saw things about it for ages, and everyone agreed it was very good LONG before anyone mentioned it was about cloning, which I find interesting. ‘Ophan Black’ sounds like a dramedy about people trying to raise an orphan that lands in their laps for some hilarious or serious reason. So I hadn’t bothered with it.
But just recently a few in the feed have started raving about it and actually saying what it’s about. And I’m definitely going to check it out.
I would say that the very idea of a reverse-Bechdel test is missing the whole point of the Bechdel test - one show where one gender is under-represented isn’t a problem unless there is a *systematic* problem with many shows doing this. The fact that Waiting for Godot doesn’t pass the Bechdel test only matters because it could just as easily have been about two women representing the tedium and existential uncertainty of life (but, as it happens, it was never going to be, because we talk about the ‘everyman’ and not about the ‘everywoman’). We need some shows that show that do the reverse to balance that out. I don’t think that Nick was meaning to protest the lack of male inclusion, I’m just highlighting that it’s important not to allow phrases like ‘reverse-Bechdel’ into our casual vocabulary.
Anyway, that’s an aside. I will be trying Orphan black.
And thanks for the congrats! I’m only a small part of the work nominated, but it has pleased me :D