There are too many TV shows and limited series in this world. Yes, there is a lot of better stuff out there. But projects that range from underwhelming to downright horrible seem to be growing in numbers. The problem stems from a variety of factors. However, for the sake of this review, let’s boil them down to two: the streaming wars and the confidence that a particular story has to be told over the course of 8–10 hours. The former makes sense because this is what entertainment has become all about—keeping the viewer glued to one streaming platform at any cost. The latter makes absolutely no sense. In my opinion, if a particular narrative can be told in a span of 2–3 hours, then that’s the format that should be chosen. Just because your corporate overlord has told you to stretch it into multiple hour-long episodes, it doesn’t mean you have to. At the end of the day, do you want to be remembered for telling a solid story or being the “creator” who stopped the audience from switching between apps? Well, the makers of “Dead Ringers” certainly think that David Cronenberg didn’t understand the potential of the Mantle twins and have unraveled their (gender-swapped) tragic tale in an episodic fashion.
Elliot and Beverly are identical twins from England. They practice gynecology in the U.S.A. at their very own “research center” named “Mantle.” Their characteristics are poles apart. Beverly is calm, composed, methodical, and soft-spoken. Elliot is brash and loud, uses expletives like punctuation marks, and is addicted to drugs. That said, they are equally brilliant when it comes to their work. Beverly prefers women, and Elliott prefers men. But since Elliot is a flirt, they apparently swap roles in order to satisfy someone that Beverly prefers. That’s what brings Genevieve into the picture, which motivates Beverly to have a kid despite suffering from multiple miscarriages over the years. And that’s essentially what the plot hinges upon, i.e., making everything around pregnancy easier for women because Beverly believes that it isn’t a process that should be treated like a disease. However, the Mantle twins don’t see eye-to-eye on that topic either because Beverly wants her experimental discoveries to be safe and accessible to all, while Elliot wants to cater to their rich financiers and do all kinds of unethical shenanigans. Naturally, this begins to impact their professional and personal lives, thereby forcing Beverly to decide if she wants to continue her toxic relationship with Elliot or if she wants to cut her off.
Doing a dual role isn’t easy for any actor. One needs to have such an immense level of confidence that they can split themselves down the middle on a daily basis and convince the audience that there are not one but two actors on the screen. Some actors keep one of the versions quite simple and the other one a little extravagant to maintain that illusion. Some alter themselves physically so that you can tell the difference. Rachel Weisz goes for a bit of both. For Elliot, she swings for the fences, and for Beverly, she internalizes everything. And depending on the situation they’re in, she switches it up, thereby blurring the lines between the two characters.
I think I would’ve preferred it if this was sort of a two-act play, and Weisz didn’t have to interact with anyone else but herself. She is more than capable of dialing the insanity and annoyingness of “Dead Ringers” to eleven when it’s the need of the hour, of course. So adding others into the mix starts to feel like overkill. The cast is great, and there’s no doubt about that. But the only performance, other than Weisz’s, that I’ll remember is that of Poppy Liu’s because she seems to be in a show of her own making.
This general lack of interest can and should be chalked up to the writing. Credit where credit is due, the miniseries does shed light on a lot of interesting things about the body of a woman that we don’t discuss on a daily basis, even though we should. At times, the writers wonder why women have to subject themselves to such excruciating levels of pain just because men want them to do it. That’s contrasted by the fact that several women voluntarily want to go through the process, which is probably a result of patriarchy anyway. The show talks about postnatal depression and how the persistent cries of a baby can make a mother feel murderous. It highlights the various complications that women are born with and how or why they still strive for normalcy.
The series goes into sexuality and what happens when a lesbian couple wants to have a baby. Miscarriages are a big part of the ongoing conversation. Given the recent legal developments around abortions, the medical procedure comes up too. Then, of course, there’s the inaccessibility of free or affordable healthcare. But the issue here is that it gets messed up amidst all the twin drama and incessant pining between the sisters. Several plot threads go unattended. And once the “Frankenstein’s monster” aspect of the show takes center stage, the whole narrative gets muddled, thereby leading to an underwhelming climax.
Now, although I’ve said that my main issue is with the convoluted and sometimes aimless writing, that’s not my only issue. The visuals in “Dead Ringers” are so dull that, at times, it feels pointless to even look at the screen. Rachel Weisz’s face and a few decent shot compositions scattered over this 6-hour slog just aren’t enough to keep you engaged. There’s this layer of haze in every single frame that is truly infuriating. In isolation, it may not feel like a big problem. But when you watch show after show, miniseries after miniseries, and direct-to-OTT films after direct-to-OTT films doing the same thing, it gets on your nerves. I’ve been told by the internet that this look is apparently trendy and intentional. To that, I’ll say that I hate this trend, and I abhor this intent to make everything look like the lights have been turned off, and the concept of color has been abandoned. Although this show and David Cronenberg’s film are separate entities, if you simply take a frame from each of them and put them side-by-side, you’ll be bound to wonder where things have gone wrong. And no, this isn’t about shooting on digital versus shooting on film. It’s a matter of taste and the dumb assumption that a “dark” topic requires “dark” visuals.
At the end of “Dead Ringers,” we are probably supposed to wonder about the crux of Beverly and Elliot’s toxic relationship and what they’ve sacrificed to preserve the legacy of the Mantle surname. But I couldn’t bring myself to care enough for either of those characters to think about the ethics of their practices, the moral boundaries that they had crossed, and the weird kind of affection they had for one another. The only notion that I was left with while sitting through the credits was that there should be more movies and fewer shows, at least until we figure out who is cut out for episodic storytelling or if we need so many 6-hour-long stories at all.
We are certainly overdoing whatever this is. I do understand the economics behind it. However, since it’s not entertaining or riveting in any shape or form, I don’t think it’s a good enough excuse for turning every story into a show. So, the next time anyone comes across a script, a book, or a short story and immediately decides to make a show out of it, I request that you pause, think about whether it can be a movie, and then start your pre-production process. At the cost of sounding repetitive, the world needs fewer shows and more movies.