outlander_1It’s been a while since I’ve blogged on a TV series. Not that I haven’t been watching them! In fact, the last few months I’ve been well nourished for drama with WEEDS, POLDARK, SUITS, HOMELAND, HOUSE OF CARDS, THE FALL and sundry other terrific shows. But much as I love Aiden Turner and have recently particularly enjoyed POLDARK, the shining jewel in the crown of TV this year — perhaps any year — has been OUTLANDER.

Ronald D. Moore has achieved a stunning adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. It is a well cast, well executed, lovingly (and no doubt exhaustingly) recreated glimpse into life in the Scottish Highlands during the build up to the Jacobite rebellion of the 1740s.

It shouldn’t be any surprise that Moore has pulled it off with such panache; Battlestar Galactica Re-imagined is still one of the best SF dramas to ever grace the small screen. In fact, I often re-read his original pitch for the show, which is available online.

Outlander is an epic love story across time built around the characters of Jamie Fraser, a young Scot wanted for murder, and Claire Beauchamp, a nurse transported from the 1940s to the dangerous 18th century Scottish highlands, both of who are very genuinely realised by Sam Heughan and  Caitriona Balfe. Not only is their chemistry palpable, but the dialogue they are given to deliver is intelligent, realistic, and sprinkled with moments of humour and tenderness.

outlander_3The pivotal wedding episode in the first series is without question the most romantic, sensitive, delicious, sensual, engaging love scene I’ve ever seen on screen. Why? Because Moore and his writers saw fit to allow the characters time to talk to each other and build their own, and the viewers, belief in the unfolding relationship. My goodness, what a difference conversation makes! Everything similar that has come before it seems pallid and rubbery.

Graeme Virtue in The Guardian writes:  “In Moore’s deft hands, there’s an immediacy and volatility to Outlander that makes nominally similar fare such as The Musketeers feel a bit panto in comparison… The episode devoted to Claire and Jamie’s first proper Highland fling has already become a minor cause célèbre thanks to its rare acknowledgement of the female gaze. Unusually, the camera lingers over Jamie’s naked body as much as Claire’s. It’s a progressive depiction of sex on screen: a relishable but relatable mixture of nerves, desire and animal passion.”

outlander_2While I agree Grame Virtue’s notion of the female gaze, it is so much more than a relishable but relatable mixture of nerves, desire and passion. The wedding scene he refers to is a delicate game of courtship, shifting emotional momentum, and the characters’ instinctive journey towards developing a deep and enduring trust. But maybe that’s just my female gaze :)

Certainly my female gaze is well and truly engaged by the fact that story is largely told through Claire’s eyes, but also by the respect that she engenders for her intellect and competency.

The supporting cast is convincing: Tobias Menzies as Black Jack Randall/Frank Randall, and Graham McTavish and Dougal MacKenzie have particular impact, though my favourite would have to be Annette Badland as Mrs Glenna Fitzgibbons.

Being in Australia, I’ve only seen series 1 part 1, and am impatiently waiting part 2 while the rest of the world waits for Series 2!

The piece de resistance, however, is the theme song. I’ve had a love affair with the Sky Boat Song since I was a child. Later on, I used to sing it to one of my sons when he was young and had trouble settling into sleep. To hear the lyrics rewritten and performed so magnificently by Bear McCreary featuring Raya Yarbrough is a spine tingling experience.

As you can see I’m running out of superlatives. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so engaged with a television series before. If I haven’t convinced you yet then let me say it plainly…if you want your soul to be touched, sometimes wounded, and ultimately uplifted, you must watch it.

Thanks to Ronald D, Moore for his vision, and to his writers and cast for going all in. I’m reading the first novel now, and it will be an interesting experience doing this in reverse (normally I would always read the book first). I’m sure Diana Gabaldon’s version is equally, if not more, loving.

Maria Ramos

Maria Violet is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy.

orphan black_girlsThe science fiction in Orphan Black has been highly praised for its realistic depictions of genetic engineering, human cloning, and the ethics behind it all. However, this is not the only true or relevant aspect of the show. Its large cast of female characters are at the heart of the story and this is primarily what makes the series so believable and real. Without the intrusion of dominant male characters to define who they are, these women are portrayed as multidimensional, fully realized individuals who can think and act for themselves–much like women outside your television screen.

Those who have not watched the show and experienced what these women are made of, may, from the outside, see some cliches: Sarah is a punk rock con artist; Alison is a suburban, straight-laced soccer mom; Cosima is a nerdy PhD student; and Helena is a trained murderer with a dark past. Although these stereotypes presumably encapsulate their personalities, there is much more to them than what’s on the surface. And despite them being clones and coming from the same genome, in no way are they exact replicas of each other, unlike the cookie cutter versions of women seen on many other television shows today.

Sarah-OrphanSarah Manning is the main protagonist and within the first few minutes of her airtime, we see a criminal who’s made a handful of poor choices. However, she is much more than that. She’s a mother, a sister, and part of a bigger and controversial issue that surrounds her and her sister clones. We come to learn that her intentions are not all bad as she will fight tirelessly for her own, and her clone sisters’, freedom and individuality. She could have very easily been put into a box as the punk character constantly doing the wrong thing, needing to be saved. But Sarah doesn’t need anyone to save her because she is fully capable of saving herself. Tatiana Maslany plays the parts of all the clones in the show and because they are all vastly different characters, we constantly see the breadth of Maslany’s talent.

Orphan Black is a show that seeks to portray empowered women and is a genuine celebration of diversity. Although the clones are unalike and come from different backgrounds, they support each other, love each other, and want the best for each other. This can not always be said for other televisions shows that pit woman against woman in meaningless antagonisms, which only reinforce the stereotype that women are overly dramatic. No…in Orphan Black we find a family that works together for their collective happiness.

felix_jordan-garavisThe men in this show are less fully realised: Paul is a secretive man easily distracted by sex; Art is a typical cop; Vic is an abusive drug dealer. They are mostly antagonists, created to get in Sarah and the clones’ way. The only man in the series who is consistently smart, strong, and worth anything is Felix Dawkins (played by Jordan Gavaris), Sarah’s adopted brother. Felix could have easily been written as “the gay comic relief”, but instead was able to transcend the labels and become something more. He’s an integral part of the show, and his sexuality (like Cosima’s) is just seen as another piece of who he is and not a defining characteristic to focus on for either comedic or dramatic purposes.

There’s been some discussion that perhaps Orphan Black goes too far in its poor treatment of male characters. Many believe they are one dimensional in order to make the female characters stronger and more important. And while it does seem like they do spend the majority of their time as set dressing and background filler, that may be less because they are being marginalised and more because they simply aren’t the main focus of the show.

Sarah, her sister-clones, and their stories are what makes this series worth watching. They move the story forward without any man or tragic event to help them develop. Though the fourth season will not be here until next year, you can catch previous episodes on Netflix, DirecTV, and Comcast Xfinity. That way, you won’t have to miss your favourite clones breaking down walls and destroying stereotypes. Although Orphan Black isn’t as well known and watched as Game of Thrones or Orange is the New Black, it is just as worthwhile.

Supanova Melb 2010_MDPThought I’d preview some of the shows in my TBW pile and sneak preview those whose release I’m looking forward to soon. Hopefully, you see something you like here as well. I’d also love to hear your recommendations.

 

Scott and Bailey s#4

Waiting On: Scott and Bailey season #4. The girls are both after the same promotion!

Justified s#6

Waiting On: Ralen-Cool and Silver-Tongue Crowder: I just watched Justified series #5, which was brilliant, and now I’m hanging out for series #6, which I believe will be the last. I’ll be reviewing #5 soon, but suffice to say it was riveting, and kind of sad as Ralen inevitably becomes as hardened and dysfunctional as his father.

Braquo s#3

Watching: I’m watching this right now and it’s good to see Eddie Caplan, Roxanne, and Walter again. Theo lies critically ill in hospital and his friends are out for revenge. Braquo puts the grit in gritty.

Engrenages s#5

Waiting On: I haven’t been able to find out anything about the new series other than it was filmed in 2013. It should be due to hit the shelves soon. I’m a huge Gregory Fitoussi fan, but I think I really watch this show for Caroline Proust’s character Laure Berthaud.

Line of Duty s#2

TBW: Keeley Hawes is in s2, and I’m keen to see how she plays out against Vicky McClure, the passionate and intense Internal Affairs cop.

Prisoners of War s#1

TBW: The Israeli series that Homeland is based on. I’ve really been looking forward to watching this one.

 

Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

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