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Now’s the best time to binge on TV’s addictive ‘Orphan Black’

SeasOne “Orphan Black” (starring TatianMaslany) is available for viewing before addictive series returns April 19.  |  BBC AMERICA

Season One of “Orphan Black” (starring Tatiana Maslany) is available for viewing before the addictive series returns April 19. | BBC AMERICA

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KNOW YOUR CLONES

BBC America’s addictive drama “Orphan Black” returns April 19, leaving plenty of time to get up to speed with the first 10-episode season.

The freshman season is available for streaming to Amazon Instant Prime Video subscribers and on-demand via several cable and satellite providers

Here’s a guide to help you keep track of the clones — all played seamlessly by Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany — as they crop up in season one in order of appearance:

Sarah Manning

The most lovable London-born punk-rocking petty criminal you ever done seen. This former foster child is the mother of 7-year-old Kira.

Beth Childs

Troubled police detective who was stuck in a live-in relationship that wasn’t as good as it looked.

katja obinger

German with a really nasty cough.

ALISON HENDRIX

High-strung suburban soccer mom with two adopted kids and a craft room to die for.

COSIMA NIEHAUS

Gay, University of Minnesota evolutionary developmental biology PhD student with cornrows. She’s the brains of the bunch.

HELENA X

Clone-killing cutter who grew up in a Ukrainian convent.

RACHEL DUNCAN

Icy C-level executive type raised on a steady diet of Kool-Aid from the Neolutionists behind the clone experiment.

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If you haven’t heard of the Canadian clone drama “Orphan Black,” here’s all you need to know: You’re missing out on one of the most addictive, entertaining shows on television.

And here’s what you need to do: Get caught up with the first 10-episode season before round two starts on BBC America April 19, because this is the year the sci-fi thriller is poised to catapult from cult hit to mainstream success.

The window between a show’s freshman and sophomore season is a crucial time to grow an audience, especially for serialized dramas. It’s the chance for a young show to draft off its buzz and pull in new viewers before the backlog of old episodes reaches intimidating heights.

Networks and studios are seizing this “catch up” opportunity like never before, making original programming widely available unusually early in the series’ runs. They’re worried less about protecting syndication deals down the line and focused more on raking in licensing fees — and additional eyeballs — thanks to streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon.

BBC Worldwide North America recently announced a deal with Amazon to give the subscription video-on-demand service exclusive streaming rights for “Orphan Black.”

“Allowing new viewers or existing fans of the show to catch up now in a binge-viewing way is really something we’ve seen people get excited about, not just for ourselves but with other network shows as well,” said Matt Forde, an executive vice president for BBC Worldwide North America. “It brings a whole new audience to a show just before the second season goes out. That’s increasingly important.”

“Orphan Black” is hardly alone when it comes to partnering with subscription streamers — a service ideally suited to bingeing. Netflix and the like make it easy to plow through programming anytime, anywhere, letting people watch on their own schedule and on an array of Internet-connected devices. A Nielsen survey found that 88 percent of Netflix users report streaming three or more episodes of the same TV series in one day.

Before the sophomore seasons of “Scandal,” “Revenge” and “Once Upon a Time” launched in 2012, ABC put all three series on Netflix, which “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan name-checked at the Emmys after his series won best drama.

“I think Netflix kept us on the air,” Gilligan told reporters. “I don’t think our show would have even lasted beyond season two. It’s a new era in television and we’ve been very fortunate to reap the benefits.”

The first season of the Soviet spy drama “The Americans” started streaming on Amazon Prime Instant Video before the show came back to FX in February.

That same month, NBC promoted the return of “Hannibal” with a 13-hour binge session — dubbed #13HourDevour — of season one, available for gorging by Amazon subscribers. Stars live tweeted during the event, and autographed copies of scripts were given away. Season two debuted on NBC a week later to bigger numbers than it drew for the season finale, despite getting bumped from Thursdays to a less desirable Friday time slot.

While subscription streaming services are a popular way to play catch-up TV, they’re not the only option. Besides DVDs, viewers can buy individual episodes and season passes for many series on iTunes, Vudu, Google Play and other so-called “electronic sell through” providers.

Cable and satellite companies are bulking up their on-demand offerings, too. On Monday, Comcast’s Xfinity kicks off its second annual Watchathon Week, allowing customers to indulge in more than 5,000 episodes from 130-plus series on demand. Subscribers can go all the way back to the beginning of broadcast dramas like “The Good Wife” and “Parenthood,” or get up to speed with HBO’s “Game of Thrones” before season four bows Sunday.

“Whether our customers decide to catch up on current shows their friends have been talking about all year, or see as many different past programs as possible, Watchathon is a free, all-you-can-watch feast for the binger in all of us,” Comcast senior vice president Matt Strauss crowed in press materials.

Another Watchathon Week offering: season one of “Orphan Black,” which also will marathon on BBC America starting April 18.

If you’re not caught up with the stellar series by 8 p.m. April 19, it’s not for lack of opportunity.

Email: lrackl@suntimes.com

Twitter: @lorirackl



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