Let’s get the facts out of the way: Yes, “Orphan Black” is an excellent, twisted show and totally in a category of its own when it comes to serial mysteries. And yes, the brilliant Tatiana Maslany is in another league as she plays, at this point, nine identical yet completely different clones.
That doesn’t mean either is ever going to get nominated for an Emmy.
For those who can’t figure out why everyone is outraged about something called “Orphan Black” and have never heard of Tatiana Maslany, the back story: The Canadian-produced show is on BBC America and quickly gained a cult favorite audience last summer. Ever since, it has been routinely ignored by award shows, and that’s a problem for its die-hard fans.
The series starts as a 20-something grifter named Sarah sees a woman who looks exactly like her on the subway platform; that woman then jumps into the path of an oncoming train. Sarah steals the woman’s purse and finds out that it’s not just her lookalike, but her clone. That sends her on a wild goose chase that results in wild conspiracies, evil scientific researchers, illegal medical experiments, creepy cult leaders and much more.
Maslany, meanwhile, is a revelation as she plays every single clone. In addition to Sarah, she’s acted as Beth, the damaged cop; Cosima, the science genius; Alison, the pill-popping housewife; Helena, the deranged serial killer; Rachel, the terrifying corporate executive; Katja, the German clone who quickly perished; Jennifer, the good-natured teacher; and Tony, the “trans-clone.”
Yet with all of that, the show has been ignored two years in a row by the TV academy, not even for one lousy visual effects prize to award all the scenes where the clones are all in the same room and talk to each other. It’s pretty amazing. So really, why was it snubbed? A few reasons:
* The Emmys don’t do “quirky.” At the end of it all, no matter how many Netflix shows get nominated, the Emmy Awards are still about as by-the-book as you can get. Eccentric, cult-favorite shows are simply not on the radar of many voters (which encompasses 18,000 “television professionals” across the industry), especially in the glam categories. Every year, it’s generally the same thing: Prestige cable/Netflix shows along with the mainstream, reputable network hits — though less in recent years — and veteran actors. This isn’t a new phenomenon; there was always outrage when the Emmys ignored critically-adored WB series back in the day, such as “Gilmore Girls” and “Felicity.”
* The lesser-known cable channels don’t get a lot of love. BBC America actually got six nominations this year, though only because of splashy TV movie “Burton and Taylor” along with “Luther,” which stars established actor Idris Elba. That’s a great number, but not so much compared to HBO (99), Showtime (24) or even Comedy Central (21).
* Unless you carry a new hit show, it’s nearly impossible to break into the lead actress in a drama category. Unfortunately, “Orphan Black” doesn’t really qualify as a “hit,” no matter how much its viewers love it. (Exception: If you’re a veteran actor beloved by Emmy voters, such as Kathy Bates. That’s why she got a nod for “Harry’s Law.”)
* Very few people actually watch “Orphan Black.” The most crucial aspect of a show’s Emmy chances, as incredibly obvious as it may seem, is that people, um, watch the show. As much as it may seem like everyone tuned in this season (via Twitter, anyway) things that are huge in the Internet bubble don’t necessarily translate to real viewership. The premiere clocked about 500,000 viewers in its first airing — while BBC America points to replays and DVR data that pushes certain episodes over 1 million, that’s still a very tiny audience.