You ever watch a scene or scenes on a show and rewind to try to figure out just what happened and/or what was said? You tend to do it for one of two reasons: Either the moment was so shocking that you have to take it all in again or the moment was so confusing, you need to decipher exactly what went on. We rewound the last scene of the first episode of Echoes and watched it three times. Sad to say, it wasn’t because we were enthralled with it.
ECHOES: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: A woman running through an upscale neighborhood.
The Gist: Gina McCleary (Michelle Monaghan), an author in LA, is very close to her identical twin sister Leni (also Monaghan), who is a horse farmer in Virginia. She calls her sister all the time for advice, and they leave each other messages in an online journal. But she’s getting worried that her usually-responsive sister isn’t returning her calls.
She eventually gets a phone call from Leni’s husband Jack Beck (Matt Bomer) that Leni has gone missing. Without a second thought, Gina flies to her hometown to see where she can help. It’s more than just wanting to help, though; the two of them are so connected that she wouldn’t know what to do if Leni was no longer around.
Gina is as pushy as Leni is relaxed, so when a day’s search ends for the night, she leans heavily on Sheriff Louise Floss (Karen Robinson) to keep looking. The folksy sheriff, who was a deputy when Gina left town under extreme circumstances, knows what she’s been through and relates the story to deputy Paula Martinez (Rosanny Zayas).
Gina goes to the house where she grew up, where her father Victor (Michael O’Neill) lives with her younger sister Claudia (Ali Stoker), who completely resents Gina for leaving. Gina notes that Jack has hired a nanny, Natasha (Maddie Nichols), and moved her niece Mattie (Gable Swanlund) to a different room. In addition, body parts from old creepy dolls her late mother gave her and Leni are missing.
As she goes looking for Leni in some of their old haunts from when they were kids, including a local cave, we find out that Gina is actually Leni; the two regularly switch lives. It seems that the real Gina has run off for good, as a note tells Leni that she can choose either of their lives going forward.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Echoes plays like an extremely dumb version of Orphan Black.
Our Take: There were lots of reasons why the first episode of Echoes, created and written by Vanessa Gazy, grated on us. The first was the wooden acting by lots of people who have been excellent in other projects. Monaghan is especially melodramatic as we hear her lyrically write to her sister in this online journal that makes no sense to us. Do only the two of them see it? Or is this public? Don’t they call and text each other all the time? Why communicate in this clunky way?
But she’s not the only one whose performance is stunningly bad. Bomer has an accent that goes in and out, and the usually reliable O’Neill seems to have only slightly modified his usual cantankerous federal agent persona into a cantankerous rancher character. And Robinson’s folksy Sheriff Floss might be a bit too folksy for the tone of this series. It doesn’t help that all of these fine actors are saddled with lines that are either just plain bad or delves in too much exposition. For instance, Gina’s husband Charlie (Daniel Sunjata) says that Jack “feels like he brings your LA drama to his quiet Virginia life,” which just told us where the two sisters live. Oof.
All of this would be fine if the very idea the show is built on made any sense. Why on God’s green earth would these women switch lives so often, which means they spent however much time they’re the other sister’s life lying to their family and friends? And when it’s revealed at the end of the first episode that Gina is really Leni, we’re left scratching our heads; we still weren’t clear which sister Monaghan was currently playing and which left. Her voice over at the end that said, “OK, Gina, welcome back to being Leni, to being me… so I can find out just what you did here… to both of us,” we had to listen to that line 3 times to even come close to figuring out who was who and what Leni is looking to do.
Sex and Skin: None, at least in the first episode.
Parting Shot: See above; Leni comes back to her house as herself, braids in place and self-inflicted bruise on her head. She hugs Jack and Mattie, but her drawl-inflected voice over has her thinking about just what the hell kind of chaos Gina inflicted when she was being Leni for the past year.
Sleeper Star: We’ll give this to Robinson as Sheriff Floss; yes, she may be too folksy at times, but she’s taking the goofiness of the role and running with it.
Most Pilot-y Line: When Charlie, a therapist, asks Gina over the phone if she’s seeing things through a lens of anxiety, Gina replies, “No I’m seeing things through a lens of shit is fucked up.”
Our Call: SKIP IT. Echoes is without question one of the most messy and confusing shows we’ve seen in awhile, and there really seems to be nothing for a viewer to grab onto that would tempt them to move to the second episode after the first is over.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
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