Generally, if a television show even touches on the themes of mixed families, genetics, and family secrets, I’m in. The three television dramas below are some of my favorites of the genre…

ORPHAN BLACK

In one of the greatest pilot/1st episodes I have ever witnessed in a television show, Orphan Black opens with Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany), a con artist with a punk attitude who is desperate to get away from her life of crime and make a good life for herself and her daughter. She arrives at a train station and is waiting alone on the platform when a woman walks up, removes her heels, looks at Sarah, and jumps in front of the train. Sarah is horrified, not only because of what she just witnessed, but because this woman, though dressed differently, was identical to her. Sarah grabs the woman’s purse, flees the scene, and decides to assume her identity, not only because the woman is well off, but because Sarah wants answers. She thinks it will be easy to take the dead woman’s money and flee, but little does she know, she’s gotten herself into a situation that is much more complex, dangerous, and unbelievable than she could have ever imagined. Then she gets the phone call…

This show introduced me (and probably many others) to the tour de force who is Tatiana Maslany, who leaped to the top of my “greatest actresses of all time” list pretty seamlessly because of this show (she won the best actress Emmy in 2016 for her roles in this show and was nominated in 2015 and 2018, as well). She is backed by an array of fantastic supporting characters and actors, including her artistic and eccentric foster brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris), her foster mother Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy), the dead woman, Beth Childs’, hunky boyfriend Paul (Dylan Bruce), and many more.

Why should genetic genealogists care? – This show is not only heavy on sisterhood (or “sestras” as they are dubbed), it delves deep into the science of biology and genetics, cloning, mixed families, and the foster system. The episodes for the first season are even named for terms from On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin such as Episode 1: Natural Selection and so on.

The show ran for 5 seasons through 2013- 2017 with a spin-off announced in 2019 that I’m more than a little excited about…At the time of this review, you can watch Seasons 1-5 on Amazon free with an Amazon Prime account.

 

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Do I love Orphan Black? You’re damn right. (Tatiana Maslany as Sarah Manning in one of my favorite sequences of the first episode ย of Orphan Black- watch to find out why!)

SISTERS

This Australian TV series premiered on Netflix in 2018 and (so far) ran for 1 season. It tells the tale of Julia Blechly (Maria Angelico) who is shocked along with everyone else by the deathbed confession of her in vitro fertilizationย scientist father Julius that he used his own sperm for his clients and could be the father of hundreds of people. In an effort to find out more about her family, Julia looks to find out who her siblings are and realizes that she has many, many brothers, but only 2 sisters: buttoned up lawyer Edie (Antonia Prebble), a “friend” from childhood, and bubbly television star Roxy (Lucy Durack). The show centers around the relationship of these newfound sisters and their hunt for the truth about their identities.

Why should genetic genealogists care? – This show deals with NPEs, in vitro fertilization, half siblings, and forming relationships with new family. I will lay down a heavy trigger warning because this does delve into lies about identity and some nightmare scenarios that can only come up when you don’t know your brother is your brother or your sister is your sister.

Apparently an American remake, titled Almost Family, is in the works by Fox and set to premiere on October 2, 2019. Sisters is currently available to watch on Netflix.

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Sisters Edie, Roxy, and Julia

MRS. WILSON

Mrs. Wilson, which premiered in the USA on PBS Masterpiece in 2019, is not only brilliant because it was conceived by and stars one of my favorite actresses, Ruth Wilson, but it tells the incredible true story of her own family. Ruth Wilson plays her own grandmother, Alison Wilson, who discovers her husband of 22 years’ secret life as a bigamist (and etc.) following his death. Without him being alive to answer the questions, Alison Wilson goes on a difficult hunt for her own answers and discovers more than she bargained for…

The show ran in a 3 part series for one season and also stars Iain Glen as Ruth Wilson’s secretive grandfather Alec Wilson, Keeley Hawes as Dorothy Wilson, and Patrick Kennedy as Dennis Wilson, two of the other Wilsons that Alison would learn about on her quest for answers…

Though you can probably watch each hour long episode in one sitting (available now on pbs.org), if you are so inclined, this show truly packs a punch and reminds me of why I love both Ruth Wilson and the intricacies of family history.

Why should genetic genealogists care? – This show deals with uncovering family secrets, newfound relatives, the effects of bigamy upon multiple households, and the aftermath.

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Ruth Wilson playing her own determined grandmother Alison Wilson in Mrs. Wilson