Were critics too harsh on Netflix's number 1 show Echoes?
The panned thriller has an alluring charm that is winning fans across the globe.
Isn't it funny how art imitates life? Mere days after watching Echoes, I visited my hometown and was struck by a shocking revelation, just like creepy twin Gina McCleary (Michelle Monaghan) in the hit Netflix thriller.
While catching up with my nan over an off-brand Cornetto, she began telling me about a show she'd been watching where two identical sisters share lives – "and even husbands!" It was immediately obvious what she was talking about, but as a recent convert to the streaming world (she didn't even have internet until the pandemic hit), I hadn't expected her to be so up to date with the latest Netflix originals. She'd even caught up on Stranger Things! What an icon.
But I digress: my point is that when I watched Echoes as a press screener the week before it came out, I wasn't confident it would make much of a dent in the streaming landscape. The onslaught of negative reviews only strengthened that hunch (it currently sits at a bleak 28 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes).
Yet, here we are 12 days later and the show has unseated The Sandman on Netflix's global top 10 – proving my nan isn't the only one talking about it. The question is, how has this silly thriller turned into an international hit? And does it truly deserve the thrashing it has received from all corners of the critical sphere? Let's discuss.
The first thing to say is that Netflix viewers will watch anything. I don't mean that disparagingly, either. When you're paying a flat fee for a buttload of content, there's no risk in sticking something on and seeing whether you like it. So, when the week's big release gets featured at the top of the homepage, many find themselves saying: "Sure, why not?" Hence why even the most uninspired English-language Netflix originals – such as Kevin Hart and Mark Wahlberg's insufferable Me Time – almost always seem to crack the UK chart, if not top it.
But is it unfair to suggest that Echoes's success can be chalked up to Netflix subscribers simply clicking 'play' out of muscle memory? I think so.
My expectations for the show had been sat somewhere around rock bottom, but after my initial amazement at the unhinged premise passed, I did find myself gradually drawn in by its mystery. Of course, the storyline is utterly implausible, but I felt there was an element of fun to seeing just how insane things could get. This ironic level of enjoyment is not always considered in professional reviews, perhaps rightly, but it could well have been a factor in propelling Echoes to pole position.
There's also the star factor. Michelle Monaghan may not be up there with Netflix's biggest names, but she's a recognisable face from her blockbuster work and I expect many were intrigued by how she would handle the challenge of playing dual roles. This won't go down in history as one of the finest times an actor has performed opposite themselves, but it's certainly an admirable effort and vaults over that crucial baseline: when twins Leni and Gina are in a scene together, you do believe it's two different people – a triumph of both Monaghan's acting and the editing trickery involved.
I'd also give kudos to Karen Robinson for Echoes's success, given she's plastered over the show's main poster and will be familiar with viewers of acclaimed sitcom Schitt's Creek (billed a Netflix original outside of Canada). I've seen her character, Sheriff Floss, taking some flak on social media, but she was a scene-stealer in my book. Robinson plays the role with such mischievousness, taking palpable glee in waging psychological warfare against the McCleary sisters and even whipping out Columbo's legendary "one more question" trick at a memorable point. Some viewers may find her character irritating, but I'd argue that's by design – she's an agitator, intended to throw a spanner in the works at the most inopportune time.
Monaghan and Robinson's commitment goes a long way to making this bizarre concoction work, so much so that I'd say they wholeheartedly deserve this win. Indeed, I've watched a lot of rubbish over the years and some of it makes me genuinely a little angry to think back on. But interestingly, when I reflect on Echoes – though I wasn't blown away by it while watching – I don't resent its success. The concept is ridiculous and the execution imperfect, but there's something here that does work: a certain charm that stems from its charismatic leads and general detachment from reality. Echoes may not win any awards, but I for one am content with seeing it crowned the people's champion.
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