Dead Ringers Review: Rachel Weisz's Double Trouble Can't Make For Coherent Television

As we have seen in years past, it isn't exactly easy to replicate the appeal and artistry of David Cronenberg. This is especially true when his work gets remade or reworked, such as 1989's "The Fly II" or 2019's "Rabid." As such, the idea of remaking "Dead Ringers," which is primarily considered one of the director's best works and features one of star Jeremy Irons' best performances, is equally weird and intriguing. However, thanks to Prime Video and showrunner Alice Birch, a new reimagining starring Rachel Weisz is here.

"Dead Ringers" is technically an adaptation of both Cronenberg's 1988 thriller and the book it is based on, "Twins: Dead Ringers" by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland. However, to call it a direct adaptation of either would be disingenuous. While some elements are maintained sporadically, its primary storylines are different enough for one to argue that it's doing its own things — for example, the central concept of our devious twins wanting to revolutionize women's health gives the text a more authentic and nuanced look at the American birthing crisis. That being said, a show like this cannot coast by on complex politics alone, ultimately bringing down this adaptation. Due to the erratic nature of the show's structure and its scripts, "Dead Ringers" proves that what works in one art medium doesn't always work in another.

They're both brilliant, they're both liabilities

Weisz portrays the Mantle sisters, Beverly and Elliot, OB-GYN doctors with an equal devotion to their work. The two dream of opening their own birthing center in Manhattan, but they have different visions for it: studious Beverly is passionate about helping other women have the healthiest pregnancies possible, while social butterfly Elliot is experimenting with the idea of creating embryos that guarantee specific traits. Couple this with the latter's worsening drug addiction and fetish for control, and the sisters find that seeking perfection at any cost will only lead them to destruction.

While Weisz is often a great actress, her performances are a mixed bag. She only portrays Beverly and Elliot in extremes, which fits well with the heightened and absurd reality. Unfortunately, likely due to the writing refusing to give characters the same nuance it gives sociopolitical themes, the sisters simply feel one-dimensional. The same can also go for the show's other offbeat characters. Britne Oldford's Genevieve, an actress that Beverly begins a passionate relationship with, doesn't have much personality beyond being her girlfriend, even if they have steamy chemistry together. And while Jennifer Ehle is arguably the show's standout, her corrupt billionaire character is just a greatest-hits collection of evil rich person stereotypes, a problem that also plagues the rest of the show's ensemble. It's as if the scripts were more concerned with making their commentary on society apparent than fleshing out the characters they created to deliver these messages.

The problem with cross-medium adaptations

While this take on "Dead Ringers" is distinguishable enough to avoid the dreaded copycat claims, it does attempt to lift some of the film's stylistic choices, such as its time jumping and inhuman surreality. Unfortunately, what worked in a nearly two-hour movie is incompatible with binge-friendly television viewing. Superfluous storylines that go nowhere are sprinkled throughout, and characters develop so rapidly that it's almost impossible to keep track of their trajectories.

At the same time, the ultra-capitalist world that the show introduces is void of any more profound criticisms besides "gee, rich people are wacky, aren't they?" By stretching out a story that could barely reach two hours into six while maintaining film qualities, the show adaptation does a major disservice to the unique ideas it does have. It tries to have its cake and eat it too, but as it turns out, that cake's ingredients are all out of proportion.

It's hard to say if "Dead Ringers" could have worked as a television show at all. Its storyline and the way that said story is presented are so intrinsic to its novel and film origins that trying to tell it in any other way feels wrong. While its feminist updates make for interesting ideas, they are ultimately forgettable against the show's erratic pacing and bizarre writing choices. You can't deny that the series attempted to stand out from its Cronenbergian predecessor, but unfortunately, it wasn't enough to make it a compelling series on its own.

"Dead Ringers" premieres in its entirety on Prime Video on April 21.