In most ways, “Echoes” is just another wacky Netflix mystery show: questionably written, filled with recognizable B-listers, and filmed in such a way that if you didn’t already know it was a Netflix show, you’d be able to figure it out pretty quick. But in time, starting about halfway through the seven-episode limited series, this particular wacky Netflix mystery show becomes something a whole lot weirder and a whole lot more interesting than most that have come before.
Michelle Monaghan plays identical twins Gina and Leni, who have spent their entire lives switching places with total ease. Gina may have moved to Hollywood and lost the soft country twang she grew up with, but she can slip back into it and Leni can slip out of it so easily that it’s almost as if there is no difference between them anymore, which is sort of the point. Leni is married to hunky cowboy Jack (Matt Bomer), while Gina, a writer, is married to hunky therapist Charlie (Daniel Sunjata). And then there’s hunky Dylan (Jonathan Tucker), the boy from the past, who is apparently nothing but trouble if you ask anyone else in town. Gina and Leni switch lives every year on their birthday — husbands, homes, jobs, clothes, everything — and while there’s a whole heap of secrets they’re hiding from the world, they know everything there is to know about each other. Or so they thought.
Mere weeks before they were supposed to switch on their next birthday, “Gina” is called back to her hometown because “Leni” has gone missing, and her absence reveals a whole world of puzzles that “Gina” has to solve. That premise twists and contorts throughout the season, weaving a convoluted mystery with the entire concept of personhood. What makes a person a person? How does a woman separate her personhood from motherhood? How might a frustrated sheriff (Karen Robinson) prosecute a crime if it’s near impossible to tell which of two absolutely identical twins committed said crime? Even before the show finally reveals exactly why this story is so interesting, there are plenty of interesting questions to ask, and plenty of new things to think about for all the millennials who grew up on “The Parent Trap” and Mary-Kate and Ashley movies. Maybe having an identical twin actually sucks?
Speaking of pop culture’s most famous twins, there’s an aspect to this show that made me imagine a beautiful world in which the Olsen twins hadn’t ever retired, and instead had evolved in their careers to bring us darker versions of their twin antics. This is “It Takes Two” meets “Single White Female,” with an ending that legitimately made me gasp and then Google whether or not there might be a second season on the way (it’s currently classified as a miniseries). It takes twins switching places taken to a whole new, deeply questionable, totally ridiculous and yet completely compelling place, to the point where I wasn’t just thinking about how there’s only one Michelle Monaghan every time she was on screen. (I was still thinking about that, but I wasn’t only thinking about that.) And no, the show doesn’t exactly dive into the murky waters around having sex with a person who thinks you’re someone else, but that was certainly something I was thinking about, too.
“Schitt’s Creek” actress Karen Robinson plays an excellent and suitably annoyed sheriff who’s just trying to figure out what on earth is going on, and while she feels at first like a foil to root against, I found myself on Team Sheriff more often than not. Somebody here deserves to be arrested, even if it’s never clear who, and sometimes it’s not even clear what crime Floss is out to solve. The lives of Gina, Leni, their sister Claudia (Ali Stroker) and their dad Victor (Michael O’Neill) are endlessly complicated and riddled with PTSD. Their mother died of cancer, Gina had a miscarriage, one of the twins caused the accident that landed Claudia in a wheelchair, and the church burned down one time, among many, many other things. It’s pure soap opera in the best way, and I think I could probably watch a daily soap opera with this exact same concept, with a few major pacing changes.
The only real problem here is that the show takes a little too long to reveal just how soapy and fun the story actually is. The first episode is slow and confusing, and the next few episodes don’t answer enough of the many, many questions any normal person would have about two women sharing their entire lives to really want to keep going. Then, Episode 5 turns the tables in such a way that I couldn’t have hit play on Episodes 6 and 7 any faster, and then it was annoying that there were only seven episodes. When your season is that short, you can’t wait until more than halfway through to explain what’s actually going on. Then again, I’m now excited to rewatch the entire thing with the knowledge gained in Episode 5, so I’m not that mad about it.
I am slightly mad on behalf of Sarah Michelle Gellar, who played identical twins with messy lives in the classic canceled CW show “Ringer.” This is a much better, much more cleanly CGI’d version of that show, though for some reason I feel like I’m still going to be thinking about “Ringer” long after “Echoes” has left my brain. I will definitely, however, be thinking about “Echoes” much longer than any other Netflix mystery miniseries I’ve ever seen, so that’s definitely something.