Steve Wilkie/BBC AMERICA
March 31, 2013 at 04:28 PM EDT

Sarah, a desperate thief. Alison, a prim housewife. Cosima, a brainy lesbian with black dreads. Helena, an insane Ukrainian assassin with wild blond hair. In a year abounding with complex female characters, Orphan Black possessed a surplus. It was stingy in one way: All were played by the same astounding actress. The highlight of this existential sci-fi serial about clones collectively searching for the truth behind their origins was watching Tatiana Maslany nail the high-wire act of playing against her multiples. In one terrifically trippy episode, Sarah, masquerading as yet another clone named Beth, pretended to be Alison during a party from hell. All of this in a tightly plotted conspiracy mystery dotted with inspired touches, few as gripping as when Helena cut off a bad guy's?well, you should just watch it. Emphasis on should.
Steve Wilkie/BBC AMERICA

Judging by last night’s premiere, it’s a little confusing why the new Canadian series Orphan Black should be sandwiched between Doctor Who and Nerdist as part of BBC America’s Supernatural Saturdays. Most of the series opener served as a showcase for Tatiana Maslany, who played one character figuring out how to impersonate another. It felt a bit more like an identity swap dramedy than the sci-fi conspiracy thriller we were promised. But that’s forgivable, because we’re just getting started.

We didn’t waste any time getting to the moment that sets off the whole series. Sarah (Maslany) waits for a train that will shuttle her away from her checkered past. But as she waits, she spots a woman who looks exactly like her — and who jumps in front of the train to her death. Sarah impulsively decides to take on the deceased woman’s personality, and most of the fun in this episode comes from watching Sarah winging it as she tries to be Beth, whose life turns out to be even more complicated than Sarah’s. As Beth, Sarah has to figure out how to act like a cop who’s the subject of a messy internal investigation. And she also has to pretend be Dylan Bruce’s girlfriend, which must be so hard.

If you’ve read the logline for Orphan Black — and if you haven’t, spoilers ahead! — you know that Sarah has many more ringers out there, who are actually clones. I suspect once the Sarahs start to multiply, that’s when the show will really start getting fun. But right now, the highlight is definitely Maslany, who so far mostly has to look flustered and falsely confident in assuming her new identity. The low point is Sarah’s gay foster brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris), who shoots off some mood-lightening quips but embodies a number of ugly stereotypes.

Are you going to keep watching for more clones? Does anyone else think that Alia Shawkat and Tina Majorino are Maslany’s real-life ringers? Speaking of which, how does Orphan Black stack up against Ringer?

Follow @EWStephanLee on Twitter.

Read more:

‘Orphan Black’: Watch the first three minutes of BBC America’s newest thriller — EXCLUSIVE VIDEO

David Tennant and Billie Piper to return for ‘Doctor Who’ 50th anniversary

Chris Hardwick previews ‘Nerdist’ on BBC America. Plus, EXCLUSIVE CLIPS

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