Tue. Jun 6th, 2023

The Pitch: While it veered somewhat from the explicit sci-fi body horror of many of his other works, the original Dead Ringers is still quintessentially Cronenberg: Perverse, gross, endlessly fascinated with the human body and how its construction defines and divides us from the worlds we live in. Now, in classic streaming-era fashion, Amazon Studios has turned this film, like many others, into a binge-able six-hour limited series, with a few novel twists.

The first and foremost of these is the casting: Rather than rehash the 1988 original’s tale of two male twins (both played with reptilian duality by Jeremy Irons) who use their gynecology practice to satisfy their sexual urges, creator Alice Birch (Lady Macbeth, The Wonder) gender-swaps the Drs. Mantle into Elliot (Rachel Weisz) and Beverly (guess who), a pair of acerbic fertility specialists running a high-end clinic in New York City.

Elliot’s the fun-loving, provocative one, always ready to poke, prod, and pervert; she attacks every interaction with a new person as an opportunity to break taboos, from bluffing about threeways with her twin and a leering diner boss to egging on an expectant dad to flash her his goods in her office. Beverly, meanwhile, is meeker, more concerned with the ethics and pragmatism that goes into their practice, and tormented by the fact that she keeps trying — and failing — to conceive a child herself. They’re one soul, split among two bodies, incomplete by themselves but a whole person together.

But a series of developments threaten that equilibrium, from a wealthy and ruthless billionaire (Jennifer Ehle) whose patronage they need to fulfill their ambitions to open a new line of fertility clinics, to an actress (Britne Oldford) with whom Beverly falls in love. Crack by crack, the bond that keeps the Mantles together begins to rip apart, and you never know who will end up as collateral damage.

Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child: Alice Birch’s works are marked by a kind of righteous fury about female sexuality and power: These gender-flipped versions of the Mantles would be right at home alongside Florence Pugh’s Katherine in Lady Macbethor, well, her Lib Wright in The Wonder. But where Birch’s eye turned to the subjugation of the past in her other works, for Dead Ringers she’s laser-focused on the intersection between girlboss feminism, the vagaries of the Silicon Valley tech set, and the actual health needs of pregnant people.

The show’s look, initiated by director/EP Sean Durkin (The Nest), is of sterile, white offices, ostentatiously-manicured manors, and high-end clinics that “look like spaceships.” The soundtrack is all ’80s New Wave needledrops (The show’s title sequence serves up a dollhouse version of their offices alongside Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams”), and the Casio hits from Murray Gold’s incidental score follows that through; it’s all a bit American Psychowhich is an intriguing, if scattershot direction to take.

Dead Ringers (Prime Video)

Dead Ringers (Prime Video)

By cb2gp