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Tatiana Maslany is the star of a new sci-fi series Orphan Black. She plays a character who encounters a series of look-alikes. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Tatiana Maslany is the star of a new sci-fi series Orphan Black. She plays a character who encounters a series of look-alikes. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

How Canada is becoming the sci-fi nation Add to ...

If there’s been a bump along the Continuum, it has had to do with the lag time in U.S. broadcast dates. Continuum began airing in May, 2012, in Canada, but not in the United States until January, 2013. The window will be shorter for Season 2 – not quite seven weeks – but that can be an eternity in the age of social media, particularly for rabid sci-fi fans, who also tend to know their way around a computer download (legal or not). At Syfy, Vitale says they’re aware of the scheduling issue, and hoping to ultimately fix it.

Lost Girl has also been picked up by Syfy. Shot in Toronto, the show was the most successful premiere in Showcase history when it debuted in 2010. The Season 3 finale airs Sunday in Canada; eight days later on Syfy. Season 4 goes into production in June, a few weeks after Silk, who is pregnant, has her baby.

Silk’s Bo is a succubus: a supernatural, strong but vulnerable femme fatale – living among humans and her own kind, the Fae. She has a best friend (Ksenia Solo) and love interests both male and female. “In the beginning, it was really hard to define what our show was. I can remember doing press, and I was, like, it’s an action-comedy-drama; I just had no idea what to call it,” says Silk. “A lot of people have compared us to Buffy, which I think is a really flattering comparison. Sometimes I say it’s like Buffy for grownups, because of the sexual content.”

The characters’ sexual freedom – including Bo’s bisexuality – is treated in a very matter-of-fact manner onscreen. But off-screen, executive producer Firestone says it did have an impact on how the show was made – and paid for. In Canada, where we seem less freaked-out about this stuff, Showcase, the Canada Media Fund and Firestone’s company Prodigy stepped up with financing. But Firestone was unable, for a long time, to secure additional funding from other broadcasters, studios or financers. “They were nervous about the bisexual element,” he says. “That’s what scared everybody.”

He financed the pilot, and even after that, couldn’t attract funding until they were about three or four episodes in, when Sony came onboard. “No American network would have produced this show; I will give you that, for sure.”

Over on Space and BBC America, another made-in-Toronto series (this one a Canada-U.S. co-production) is also generating cross-border buzz. Orphan Black started simmering in the brains of Manson and co-creator John Fawcett a decade ago, beginning with an opening sequence: A woman gets off a train, looks across the platform, and witnesses another woman, who looks remarkably like her, commit suicide. As Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) assumes the identity of her doppelganger, she begins to uncover the mystery of the dead woman’s identity, as well as her own (and later, others’).

The series premiered March 30, attracting the biggest audience for an original series debut in Space’s 15-year history – and some excellent reviews. “Thoroughly impressive, wildly entertaining,” gushed The Hollywood Reporter. “One of the most intriguingly entertaining new series of the year.”

Much has also been made of its ambiguous setting. For example, what appear to be suburban trains in the opening sequence are departing for New York, but the dead woman’s wallet is filled with Canadian currency. “It’s meant to be Generica,” says Manson. “It’s part of the price you pay for this kind of co-production.”

On Continuum, meanwhile, Vancouver plays itself – in the present and future – with very specific references, right down to street names. “It wasn’t a decision. We just kind of assumed it and we waited for someone to push back, and nobody did,” says creator Simon Barry, who lives in one of Vancouver’s glass towers.

There was some initial concern that because Vancouver is such a new city, it was almost too modern to demonstrate the contrast between 2012 and 2077. But Barry says it was exciting to embrace the modernity of contemporary Vancouver and to force that against a different aesthetic of what the future might look like. “We thought: Let’s give ourselves a challenge to out-future an already futuristic city to see what we come up with,” he says.

The setting for Lost Girl is more traditionally vague. While care was taken to mention the need to cross the border during an episode dealing with capital punishment, for the most part Bo is doing her vixen thing in Anytown.

“The story is a universal story,” says Firestone. “We’re not talking about Canadian monsters.”


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