Teens living on the edge

Amanda See/ Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany broke through with her performance in Canadian series Orphan Black.

AMERICA - Couch Grouch, what will you do for your child? How far would you go?" goes the challenge here.

Well, for one extremely anxious American parent, it went as far as strapping on a suicide- bomber vest right in the CIA building lobby. And I thought that buying an iPad for your kid was going the distance.

In Hostages, the American president's surgeon and her family are held hostage in their own home.

In Crisis, it is the president's son who is kidnapped, along with a whole bunch of other kids from an elite Washington DC private school who are children of the super rich and very famous of American society.

Their parents are the sort of unloved, ultra-rich who are so overprotective and paranoid that they implant GPS chips into their children which need removal by their captors.

Bottom line: Crisis is like summer camp for the juvenile high, mighty and snooty - but with armed guards led by bitter ex-CIA analyst Francis Gibson (My Best Friend's Wedding's Dermot Mulroney). Everything is provided for, including bunk beds and medication for the highly stressed (a funny modern touch for today's edgy youth).

The teens - a locker-room mix of chicks, jocks, jerks, nerds and one stereotypically plump Asian whiner - are seized from a school bus and locked up in a big mansion where search drones fly past and the kidnappers hidden in adjoining rooms are so tech-savvy they can send those planes crashing.

"My problem is, you took kids, children. What kind of person does that?" says Secret Service agent Marcus Finley (Lance Gross), the rookie agent shot on his first day of guarding the president's son.

Still, chances are that the bad un-PG things will happen only to the adults in this series since American TV audiences really do not wish to see teens - even an over-privileged brat pack like this - getting grievously harmed.

Finley fronts the search for the kids, alongside FBI agent Susie Dunn (Australian actress Rachael Taylor from Charlie's Angels and 666 Park Avenue), who has a personal stake in the matter as her niece is one of the hostages.

She also has to deal with her estranged mega-cold sister, Meg Fitch (The X-Files' Gillian Anderson), depicted here as the CEO of a corporation so powerful she pursues her own secret and unauthorised means to secure the release of her daughter, Amber (Halston Sage).

The level of previously rational grown-ups disobeying official instructions and behaving stupidly, including even the president's own White House chief-of-staff, reaches monumental propor- tions here.

I know this set-up sounds so totally hokey and preposterous, the crime drama meeting High School Musical. Can this combo of national security and adolescent insecurity mix together?

Well, so far it generally does not in the opening episodes, because the teen side of things is just so lame and boring you may think you are watching 90210 with guns.

Although the cop side of things is better, Mulroney's kidnapper-parent is the best thing in the show here. His turn as the mastermind who infiltrates the teen group disguised as a kidnapped parent is so fun that if this was a comedy, it would be titled How I Crashed My Teen Daughter's Prom Night.

He has some major beef with the CIA which betrayed him and now the kids think he is a snivelling coward.

But we know that he is putting in overtime juggling between threatening the government as a bad foe and trying to connect with his little girl as a good parent.

The man even gets his own finger cut off by one his men in the process.

I am hoping that by the time this nutty-but- under-control tale finishes, he would have at least one ear, two toes and three fingers left because, dads, you all know how difficult a teenage daughter can be.

Me? I will just stick to the safer route of getting the kid an iPad.

Unlike Crisis, over at Orphan Black, English hustler-con girl Sarah Manning (Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany) does not have issues with her parents.

That is because she has no parents since her origin, the show reveals, came about in a lab experiment.

Orphan Black, to me, is the best and liveliest series about cloning I have seen in a long while.

At the beginning of the first episode, Sarah witnesses the suicide of someone who looks exactly like her - a troubled cop named Elizabeth Childs.

She assumes the dead cop's identity to steal her money, transforming from a "punk rock ho" to an instant police detective.

Her disguise as a faux detective to continually fool her cop partner in tense situations is well plotted, and through further episodes, Sarah encounters even more doppelgangers such as football mom Alison, geeky scientist Cosima, and a mysterious German double who is assassinated.

Topping the lot is Helena, a blonde Slavic terminator who sees it as her religious duty to get rid of all the abominations who look like her, and on a better day, you would definitely want her as your crazy enforcer sister.

The sinister suspense here is all-consuming as Sarah finds out just what the heck is going on (every clone seems to know the truth except her), and here is why this series is so compelling and concentrates on being a riveting drama-thriller with a high human component.

Maslany could have done it as multiple variations of the same person, a la Toni Collette in United States Of Tara, but by playing them as completely different women with totally different lives, and with such consummate skill, you forget that it is one person portraying all of them.

I particularly like the character of Alison, the suburban football mom, who goes from a wary stranger to a loopy confidant. In a hilarious episode, she tortures her husband to find out if he knows she is a clone, even as everybody - clones and all - converge on her home in the middle of a kids' party.

The likeable, talented Maslany reminds me of a spunky, indie Mila Kunis.

"Bloody hell, how many of us are there?" she exclaims. You really hope she stays, well, low- budget like this.

Orphan Black scores because it is a modest but very well-made Canadian series without the excesses of Hollywood killing it with boring shootouts and car chases.

In cloning terms right now, it is an exact gem.

View it CRISIS Fox (StarHub TV Channel 505, SingTel mio TV Channel 330) Thursdays, 9.50pm

ORPHAN BLACK ½ Lifetime (StarHub TV Channel 514) Mondays, 9pm

This article was published on April 10 in The Straits Times.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

Purchase this article for republication.

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