As the standard TV season winds down, mid-season and summer shows come back with a vengeance. Orphan Black, which features a woman (Tatiana Maslany) who discovers that she is a clone created by a secret organization, is a runaway hit. Continuum, in which Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols) is a cop from the future that gets sent into the past to stop terrorists from her time, is back for a third season and is both smart and action packed. Both series are chock full of twists and turns but also really smart premises but which is the show that should be your new obsession?
THE SCIENCE IN THE SCI-FI
Continuum is pretty smart about the science fiction of time travel. One of the main sources of drama in the series is the tension surrounding the science of the space-time continuum. Is Kiera helping to create the future where her son and husband are waiting for her, or is she changing that future with everything she does in the past?
The series boasts a startlingly realistic vision of the future (big business buys out the government and creates a technocratic police state), but also shows off tons of cool gizmos.
Orphan Black, on the other hand, is a little light on the science despite being about clones. Cosima Niehaus, one of the clones in question, is an evolutionary development student… but is basically treated as an all-purpose science expert.
Winner: Continuum. The show actually conscribes logic to time travel and presents startling technological developments for the future.
Both series feature actors doing double (sometimes quintuple!) duty. Part of the appeal of Orphan Black is that Maslany plays so many characters. There are not only so many clones you don’t know what will happen next, Maslany also breathes them all to life with unique personalities and distinct characteristics. She even sometimes has to play one clone impersonating another. It’s like the acting Olympics.
Thanks to Continuum‘s heavy use of time travel, Nichols plays Kiera both in the present and in her original future. In addition to this (spoilers!), we’ve seen a recent development introducing a two versions of Kiera’s confidant Alec Sadler (Erik Knudsen), from two different timelines. It’s an interesting twist but the show isn’t capitalizing much on having the actors exist in two different time periods as far as performance goes.
Winner: Orphan Black. Maslany is a powerhouse and deserves an Emmy, while Kiera hasn’t gone through much of a transformation despite being in the present for three seasons.
TRUST VS. UNCERTAINTY
The suspense and tension of Orphan Black comes from the characters’ (and viewers’) inability to trust anyone. Any character could be a monitor, an agent sent to spy on the clones. Everyone’s motivations are suspect, and any new characters and developments come equipped with WTF shocker moments.
Continuum is built on uncertainty. No character knows that the changes they make will create the shocking future Kiera came from or make things better or worse. But the tension exists primarily on a scientific level, rather than a human one.
Winner: Orphan Black is more fun because the story unfolds at a terrific pace, while Continuum can be irritating because, for some reason, the terrorists from the future have never questioned if they are creating the future they tried to escape from.
AND THE ULTIMATE WINNER IS…
Both shows are insanely addictive. However, Orphan Black wins by a nose. It’s the right blend of action, mind-bending surprises, and a good sense of humor.