Thursday, 15 September 2011

Review: RINGER, 1.1 - "Pilot"

Thursday, 15 September 2011
written by Eric Charmelo & Nicole Snyder; directed by Richard Shepard
starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nestor Carbonell, Ioan Gruffud & Kristoffer Polaha

The big mystery is why Sarah Michelle Gellar's television comeback has taken this long. Did she finally give up hope of a Scooby Doo 3? CBS produced Ringer's pilot but didn't take it to series, allowing teen-friendly affiliate The CW to step in, perhaps because SMG's cachet as '90s vampire slayer Buffy is still seen as a draw for today's youth. Ringer wants to be a Hitchcockian identity thriller, but its characters aren't quite rich enough yet, although there's undoubtedly promise and an inciting final twist that's good enough to keep me on the hook.

The high-concept premise finds alcoholic ex-stripper Bridget Kelly (Gellar), sole eye-witness to a mob hit, going on the run from her FBI handler Victor Machado (Nestor Carbonnell) on the eve of the trial. A desperate Bridget reunites with her estranged identical twin Siobhan (Gellar), the wealthy wife of self-made millionaire Andrew Martin (Ioan Gruffudd), and after Siobhan commits suicide—assumedly to escape her unhappy marriage, although other secrets may come to light—Bridget decides to replace her own dead sister, as the perfect hiding place from the Feds and the Mafia.

It's one of those absurdly fun "airport novel" ideas, allowing for amusing moments as the less priggish Bridget tries to convince people she's stuck-up Siobhan, while navigating her way through a life that isn't her own. As Quantum Leap proved, it's appealing to see someone literally step into someone else's shoes, but it's a pity Sarah Michelle Gellar isn't better in these roles. She's a nice presence (and hasn't aged a day since staking vampires), but Gellar must rank as the least convincing recovering alcoholic that's ever been committed to film, and her turn as courteous Siobhan saw half the performance handled by a white dress. A dual role like this may wander into clich├ęs (one twin's good, one twin's evil), but a better actress would have made the distinction between the two sisters more nuanced. Gellar just makes Siobhan a little colder than Bridget, and clearly had difficulty with the slapdash effects sequences where she's acting alongside herself.

Still, for a pilot, Ringer isn't inadequate and even managed to throw up intriguing clues about why Siobhan may have wanted to escape her privileged life—involving a pregnancy, a poor relationship with her step-daughter, and an affair with her best-friend's husband Henry (Kristoffer Polaha). It all reminds me of a Spanish soap novella, I'm not convinced it's a story that's going to work beyond its first season, but I'm prepared to give the writers a chance to prove me wrong. The final scene came as a surprise (although it probably shouldn't have), and hints at a deeper mystery that could be fun to pick apart. There's certainly plenty to discover about the circumstances of the mob hit Bridget saw, and what shady business Andrew's involved with, etc. I just hope the answers lead us down some interesting paths, instead of the plot thickening for the sake of it and just becoming an implausible mess.

Overall, it may feature two lifeless performances from Gellar (I think she works best with a humorous element that's missing here), the least-convincing speedboat sequence in living memory, on-the-nose symbolism (mirrors, mirrors!), and a premise that feels like an old '80s screenplay that's been refashioned for TV, but I can't deny I found Ringer quite entertaining. If Gellar can distinguish her roles better going forward, and the writers quickly prove they have a mystery that's absorbing in itself, Ringer could become a satisfying small-screen thriller with a tincture of '60s cool.

Asides

  • Great to see Nestor Carbonnell on the show, best-known now for playing Richard Alpert in Lost. His role as the FBI agent trying to find Bridget is one I'm worried about, though. Given the fact he's found Bridget (only he thinks she's Siobhan), and it's therefore impossible for him to find Bridget until he realizes the swap that's taken place, what will he character be doing most weeks? Ditto Bridget's NA sponsor Malcolm Ward (Mike Colter), whom it seems she'll be confiding in about what's really going on.
  • This episode attracted 2.84m viewers (1.2 in the 18-49 demo).
13 September 2011 / The CW