Monday, September 25, 2017

Orphan Black and Exercises In Genre

Orphan Black was the best show nobody watched - although it sustained enough of an audience to last four seasons, its appeal has always been niche. One of the reasons is the uncertainty about the show's genre. It's undeniably science fiction - the storyline is dependent on human cloning, and as far as we know there aren't any clones wandering around. Of course, you don't talk about Clone Club. But what kind of science fiction?

Wikipedia calls it a "Science fiction thriller" - which might work. Techno-thriller might be closer - except that they don't excessively explore the technical details. So, it's not a techno-thriller, even if it does focus on near-future technology.

But that opens the question of whether Orphan Black is a thriller. There's certainly plenty of suspense, there's a lot of crime (a fair amount of it inexpertly executed by Alison Hendrix. But is it a thriller? In a thriller, the entire point is the hero fighting for their life against insurmountable odds. The question of a thriller is "Do they live?" (The answer is almost always yes, but the thriller viewer does not care).

Is the central question of Orphan Black "Do they live?" It's certainly a question, but it's not the question. The question is "Who controls the future of humanity?" but with the distinctly feminist twist, in part, of "Who controls our children? Who controls our wombs?" That's a deeply science fictional question and it's too deep for a typical thriller.

Unpopular opinion: It's not a thriller.

It's also not a superhero story - although there are some superpowers in the story, they're minor. It could be the prologue to one, though.

And it's set in a completely unaltered real world in which the changes are secret. That would make it urban fantasy except, of course, it's about science. Maybe it's science realism? (A real world story with subtle changes to science that flavor the story).

Hrm, how about another approach? What science fiction show is Orphan Black most like? And the answer is "The X-Files." (Disclaimer: Although I loved the original, I've been too scared to watch the revival - it's one of those things I'm afraid re-visting would ruin). But what? Isn't that about...aliens?

Yes, but it's also about the real world going on with its life while the protagonists face their struggle essentially alone. Orphan Black is better as science fiction.

Wiki, though, doesn't help us with this, calling The X-Files a "science fiction drama" which...isn't a sub genre. It does bring in a possibility: Is Orphan Black "science fiction horror"? I'd say no, it's a bit lighter than that. And Wiki also takes us back to the thriller question.

So, what is Orphan Black? I think it makes its own sub-genre. Or, perhaps, it inhabits a sub-genre "The X-Files" created and which is also occupied by Sense8, Torchwood and even, to a degree Warehouse 13. That sub-genre is supernatural fantasy with the magic taken out and replaced by science. It has the same secrecy, the same idea that things "man was not meant to know" are right there, just hidden by the wits of the few privileged ones who know the truth.

But what do we call it? Contemporary science fiction just means anything set in the real world that focuses on scientific development.

I'm stumped - anyone got any thoughts?