Sarah Michelle Gellar Returns to TV in Ringer

Sarah Michelle Gellar returned to episodic television with a bang -- her new show, Ringer, earned almost 3 million viewers, the highest rated show on The CW network in two years.  The pilot episode was campy, melodramatic, and outright crazy -- the kind of over-the-top, far-fetched, soap opera-ish thriller that might earn belittling and snarky comments from critics (like me), but continue to attract audiences looking for guilty pleasures that don't involve aliens, vampires, zombies, ghosts, or reality wannabe pseudo-celebrities. 

The first episode was a convoluted mess storywise with jarring leaps in logic and plotholes galore, but enough twists and turns to keep our attention, and plenty of mysteries to make us tune in for at least another episode or two to see where on earth this whole thing is going. 

SPOILERS AHEAD, I will discuss specifics, so if you haven't seen it yet and don't want to know the details, come back later.  Otherwise, carry on.

The show wisely begins with an action scene as Sarah Michelle Gellar's character is chased by a masked assassin.  Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer quickly got their battle-jones out of the way.  Unlike Buffy, Gellar's new heroine isn't a superhero with martial arts skills.  She is vulnerable, human, and (we learn as the episode progresses) emotionally and psychologically fragile -- she's a recovering drug addict and apparently a former stripper with secrets that will no doubt be revealed and fleshed out as the series progresses.

We learn that her character, Bridget Cafferty, witnessed a murder and is about to testify to put a very dangerous man behind bars for the crime, but fearing for her own safety she flees from her police protector and goes on the lam to her identical twin sister, Siobhan, a wealthy socialite with plenty of secrets of her own (even if that is the first place the police would look for her -- and they do).

Gellar plays both sisters, and the gimmick sometimes works and sometimes proves to be distracting.  My suspension of disbelief never really kicked in -- I couldn't stop thinking that I was watching an actress playing two roles.  (Watch the original The Parent Trap, for example, and see  the fine job that actress Hayley Mills did as twins Susan and Sharon, aided by the crafty direction of David Swift and the cinematography of Lucien Ballard, and you will see how it can be done to perfection.)  Ringer goes out of its way to stress that, even though they are identical, Bridget is "skinnier" than Siobhan.  Personally, they looked exactly the same to me, hence, it was another (repeated) distraction.

The show makes a point to play on the duality of the twins, but also the dual nature of all the characters we see, by using (or over-using) the symbolism of mirrors and reflections.  It was cool the first few times, but after a while it was as if they were hitting us over the head with it.  I almost wanted to scream, "We get it already."

Siobhan and Bridget go out on a speedboat for some bonding and also, I assume, to chat about whatever secrets they might have need to chat about after being estranged from each other and not on speaking terms for six years.  It is just an excuse for the big, pivotal scene in which Bridget passes out (drugged by Siobhan?) and wakes up to find her sis missing and presumably drowned.  (The scene, by the way, is one of the worst bits of green-screen special effects ever recorded.  It is almost laughable in its "badness."  Maybe it was intentional, like in Shutter Island, but if Martin Scorsese couldn't pull it off to my liking in that movie, Ringer doesn't come close to making it work here either.)

Now comes the greatest leap in storytelling logic -- instead of reporting the apparent death of her sister, Bridget decides to simply step into her high-heeled shoes and assume her identity. Yes, Bridget is not a stable person; yes, she has issues; yes, she's under a lot of stress; but if any human being thinks their sibling died by accident or suicide, I don't think his or her first choice of action would be to not tell anyone and just start impersonating the allegedly dead victim.

The story seemed rushed with leaps that don't fully feel believable.  The motivations for many choices remain unclear.  Obviously they want to build on the suspense and mystery, but some of it comes across as just weak plotting, as if the writers just threw stuff out there, not knowing the holes they were digging or the questions they were raising, thinking they might fill them or answer them later (while digging more holes and piling on more questions).

One of the best moments that actually worked well was the conversation between detective Victor Machado (played by Nestor Carbonell from Lost) and Bridget, pretending to be Siobhan, more than halfway through the episode.  It was a fine bit of acting as the two characters sat on a bench, delivering exposition but revealing a lot about their characters and displaying a lot of rich subtext.  It was an excellent example of writing and acting.

The supporting cast is great.  In addition to Carbonell, the show is helped by other terrific performers doing great work: Ioan Gruffard as Siobhan's cold and distant but intriguing husband Andrew; Zoey Deutch as Siobhan's slutty, rebellious, drug-using step-daughter Juliet; Mike Colter as Bridget's Narcotics Anonymous sponsor (yes, real addiction sponsors wouldn't be the opposite sex) and possible love interest Malcolm (see, they needed a possible love interest); Tara Summers as Siobhan's best friend, Gemma, with whose husband Siobhan was having an affair and may have become pregnant with his child (lots of plot twists crammed into an hour, my friends); Kristoffer Polaha as the aforementioned philandering husband Henry; among others.

The show ends on another cliffhanger (if you didn't heed my SPOILER WARNING before, now is really a good time to turn away if you don't want to know what happened) in which we discover that Siobhan is actually alive and now in Paris.  Something is clearly afoot.  The obvious guess is that Siobhan faked her death and wanted Bridget to let the world know that she was dead, but Bridget ruined it by being stupid and pretending to be Siobhan.  (Again I ask, "Who does that?"  The show acknowledges that it was ridiculous, and uses it as a plot device, but it still doesn't add any kind of motivation to at least partially explain why anyone would even consider such a move.) 

Needless to say, in all its campy silliness, Ringer has an addictive quality to it, at least with this debut, and I'll give a couple of other episodes a try to see where it's going.  If nothing else, it's good to see Sarah Michelle Gellar back in a leading role (actually, two!)

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