Twins

[6 October 2005]

By Elaine Hanson Cardenas

Dumbing Down

Twins is about two sisters, Mitchee (Sara Gilbert) and Farrah (Molly Stanton), who have just taken over the management of the family’s San Francisco-based lingerie business. The plots are thin, generally revolving around the idea that dumb is smart and smart is dumb, a conventional “opposition” represented by the two sisters and their parents. Twins might have capitalized on the unusual relationship twins share, or maybe the complex identity issues they experience. Instead, it reinforces stereotypes.

In the second episode, Mitchee and Farrah tackle their first big management task. Having inherited the business from their retiring parents, they need to name a new line of panties. Before meeting with their staff, the sisters discuss the importance of “speaking with one voice.” The joke, of course, has to do with twins’ frequent treatment as if they are “one person,” rather than individuals.

Much of the show depends on the differences between the two sisters, who appear to be opposites. Mitchee is the short, dark, slightly acerbic, and intelligent one; Farrah is tall, blonde, and beautiful (like the movie star she’s probably named for), and also unbelievably dumb, albeit sweet. Their contrast parallels their parents’, bringing to mind another common concept in twin mythology—the “born couple.” The father, Alan (Mark Linn-Baker), is like Mitchee, and Lee (Melanie Griffith) resembles Farrah.

In fact, Farrah and Lee seem more like twins than the sisters. In the third episode, “Treat Her Like a Lady,” they retreated from a serious business meeting to the spa, where they lay side-by-side on chaises lounges, cucumber slices on their eyes, chit-chatting, while Mitchee and Alan prepared for a meeting with a top client. Periodically, we saw split screen images of Mitchee and her father, or Farrah and Lee, talking to each other on the phone, usually about how to deal with the other twosome. These scenes reinforced the opposition between dumb and smart that drives the series.

The rare laughs come from Mitchee’s unexpected quips. When the sisters were trying to decide on a code word to use if they want to retreat from the staff to discuss something in private. Farrah suggested, “I want to vomit.” Mitchee rejected it, saying, “That’s what a model says after she eats an M&M.” Otherwise, the humor depends on the contrast between smart and dumb and sophomoric word play. When Farrah wanted to call the new panties “butt-pucker,” Mitchee responded by saying “applesauce,” their chosen code word. Predictably, Farrah forgot the code and jokes ensued about “chocolate,” eliciting groans from their staff.

Repeatedly, Mitchee or her father will say something intelligent, sometimes referring to research or management theory, only to be followed by an oversimplified, short rephrasing by Farrah or Lee. This juxtaposition of their version and the “simple” version makes Mitchee and her father seem pompous. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the scene where Lee says to Farrah, “As your father would say, ‘Blah, blah, blah.’”

In the end, Farrah usually “wins,” suggesting again that she is not so dumb after all (and maybe Mitchee is, despite appearances). In the second episode, “Fruit of the Lunatics,” Farrah outfoxed her sister, and the panties were named “butt-pucker.” In another episode, Farrah breezed into a client meeting after Mitchee and her father presented their plan, and told the client her idea for a “lop-sizer”—a bra with different cup sizes on each side to accommodate women with different sized breasts. The client loved the idea. Once again, Farrah trumped her sister. Similarly, Lee won in a game against Alan. On the first day of their retirement, the parents were so bored and ill-at-ease with each other they resorted to scrabble. Lee won with made-up words she ostensibly believed are real: fabbing and ib. A “fab” is like a fib, she tells us, only bigger.

The disturbing thing about these reversals of “smart” and “dumb” is the anti-intellectualism they represent. It’s particularly difficult to accept now, when science is under assault, and creationism is challenging evolution. The term “dumbing down” doesn’t begin to describe it.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/twins-051006/