Double take: The Lying Game and other shows about identical twins.

A couple of things.
Aug. 25 2011 7:14 AM

Double Take

There are four new shows about identical twins.

Still from The Lying Game. Click image to expand.
Alexandra Chando as Sutton Mercer and Emma Becker in The Lying Game

Are you fixated on the intertwined inner lives of identical twins? Thoroughly? Are you certain? I offer Tia & Tamera (Style Network, Mondays at 9 p.m. ET)—a celeb-reality show, new this month, starring the actors Tia and Tamera Mowry—as a test of your derangement. If you can maintain consciousness through a complete episode of this amazingly bland series, then you can count yourself a hard-core twin obsessive entitled to all the rights, privileges, and quizzical stares appertaining thereto. If not, then you are just another garden-variety geminaphile and will be better served by another of this moment's TV-show twin sets. There are a few to chose among, TV executives having doubled down on the concept. But let us briefly dally for a moment with Tia and Tamera Mowry, who are pleasant company to a fault. Do the names not ring a bell? Perhaps a glance at their bios will jog your memory. First, here's Tia: "With her identical twin sister, Tamera, by her side, Tia became a teen TV star thanks to her work on the wildly popular comedy series Sister, Sister. She continued to act and produce while pursuing a psychology degree at Pepperdine University." Then, there's Tamera: "With her identical twin sister, Tia, by her side, Tamera became a teen TV star thanks to her work on the wildly popular comedy series Sister, Sister. She continued to act and produce while pursuing a psychology degree at Pepperdine University." On six seasons of the show, they played sisters—one bookish, one party-hearty—adopted separately at birth and reunited at age 14. Unlike many former child stars, the Mowrys are perfectly level-headed, which is the whole problem with the show. There are only passing moments of tension between Tia (who is married with a baby on the way) and Tamera (who is preparing for a Napa Valley wedding), and these often involve Tia's being so pregnant that she can't give 100 percent as a matron of honor. For instance, there's an Us Weekly photo shoot to attend and hideous bouts of morning sickness; her dread of being the pregnant lady in the club hampers her desire to attend the bachelorette party. But most of the conflicts amount to small misunderstandings that are swiftly and amicably resolved. Perhaps this is evidence of the twins' synced brainwaves. In any event, it leaves you watching a program that's mostly about mild-mannered women running errands. Where Tia & Tamera is a docu-soap stuck in neutral, The Lying Game (ABC Family, Mondays at 9 p.m. ET) is a traditional soap on training wheels. Based on a series of young-adult novels by author Sara Shepard, it is a product of Alloy Entertainment, the teen-tertainment juggernaut that is both a publishing company and a production outfit, and so the show counts as its forebears both Gossip Girl and the Sweet Valley High series, with its Wakefield twins, one bookish and one party-hearty. Here, actress Alexandra Chando plays sisters adopted separately at birth and reunited as teens, at which point the rich one, Sutton Mercer, sets out in search of their birth mother while the humble happy protagonist, Emma Becker, steps into her life. Early on in her imposture, Emma learns that she is supposed to be a conniving bitch. When, on the contrary, she acts like a decent human being, other people wonder, rhetorically, "Who are you?" and her gaze slips a bit. That's the main action in this sub-subgenre where the "nice" twin operates as both the trickster and the dupe, the con artist and the mark. Her only ally is Sutton's secret boyfriend, a kind and rugged young man brooding beneath a vintage Johnny Depp mess of dark hair. I would call the character, Ethan Whitehorse, a blue-collar hunk if his collar, like the rest of the shirt, were more frequently in evidence. Adults may well find The Lying Game less compelling than much ABC Family fare. It is one of the network's few shows that doesn't aim to entertain—or even pretend to pander to—persons who dispense allowances and set curfews. There is no sophistication to trap the parents. And yet there is something dreamily demented about it. The doubling has taken on a delusional and disorienting quality: All the handsome blonde moms and chiseled strong-chinned dads look alike, and a couple members of Sutton's circle are practical doppelgangers. We wander through a Freudian dawn of the clones. Something interesting is up in the show's fractured fairy-tale treatment of the daddy-princess dynamic; watching Emma clear one hurdle—cutting a rug at a father-daughter dance at Sutton's country club—you watch an atavistic Disney cartoon theme collide with a new-school Disney Channel frolic. And there is something expressive of the adolescent condition in the difficulty Emma has being herself. The grown-up version of The Lying Game is Ringer, a much-anticipated drama debuting on the CW on Sept. 13. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Sarah Michelle Gellar double the freshness as twins reunited after six years apart. At the start of the pilot, Gellar is Bridget Kelly, formerly an exotic dancer, now a recovering addict in Wyoming, and soon to be rubbed out, probably, by a crime boss whom she is slated to testify against in court. Bridget is plucky and funny and tough—tough enough, in fact, to steal a cop's gun and go on the run the night before she is scheduled to take the stand. Back East, she sees her sis, a posh ice queen named Siobhan Martin, who tells Bridget that Mr. Martin doesn't know that his wife has a twin. Then, leaving her engagement ring behind, Siobhan abruptly splits. Stepping into her sister's Tory Burch flats—or whatever kind of hiking boots one uses for rugged social climbing—Bridget discovers that she is supposed to be a conniving bitch. There is permafrost on Siobhan's relationship with her husband, and she is having an affair with the husband of her BFF/interior decorator. Her talent for scheming is such that none dare speak of its details, lest they move the plot along too quickly. This is a fine set-up for fine comic-strip pulp, and the role must be a fun challenge for Gellar, with the scenario demanding that she play a person caught in a never-ending improv exercise and forever investigating her motivations to pursue and escape. The early version of the pilot offers a lot of rouge and noir. Its tone shuffles knowing horror touches (vertiginous violins, a hook-handed assailant) with ripe melodrama and a lot of hall-of-mirrors black-swanning. Decorative Lynchianisms include the '50s-ish art direction of one Double Nickel Motel. Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces" fills the soundtrack at a key moment, hinting that the heroine and her other half are so troubled because they're incomplete. The twin-nut who is too mature for The Lying Game's tween duplicity and too impatient to wait for Ringer's pop riffs on identity could try tiding himself over with Buried Treasure (Fox, Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET), starring Leigh and Leslie Keno, identical-twin antique dealers touted as "kings of collectibles." The teasers for this one promise a hybrid of Hoarders' ab-psych exploitation, Antiques Roadshow's history lessons, and Pawn Stars' strike-it-rich game-showmanship. The Keno's twinness hardly seems essential to the content of the series, but it does influence the tone. They function as fairy godbrothers, turning junk into gold and dreams into cash, double-dealing in magic.

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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