As excited as many “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fans were to see Sarah Michelle Gellar return to primetime, it was inevitable that the pilot of “Ringer” would disappoint. It’s just not easy to live up to Joss Whedon. But even if SMG and the long shadow of “Buffy” had been taken out of the equation, it isn’t likely “Ringer” would have emerged as an unqualified hit — Its lackluster attempt at film noir, its laughable green screen effects in the pilot, its thuddingly obvious metaphors, its plodding exposition (more on the first episode’s failings can be read about in Dan and Alan’s reviews) didn’t exactly add up to must-see TV. But pilots have been known to wobble before a series ultimately gets its footing, so I was committed to watching “Ringer” — with fingers crossed.
Even three episodes in, the show still seemed pretty wobbly. Tone continued to be a problem (sometimes the twin concept felt closer to “The Parent Trap” than Hitchcock) and, instead of character development, we kept getting slapped with obvious noir visuals (those “Lady of Shanghai” mirrors, Gellar’s overwrought retro wardrobe) and the occasional groan-inducing flashback. When Bridget-as-Siobhan killed a hit man and tucked away his body in a trunk that later became decoration at a cocktail party, it felt more like sitcom wacky hijinks than its obvious source material, Hitchcock’s classic “Rope.” I half expected SMG to roll her eyes when the dead guy’s cell phone went off inside the trunk and she was left to grope around the body to find it.
There were glimmers of hope, though — a spark of attitude in Gellars performance when Bridget-as-Siobhan used her FBI connection to scare off the mystery man who so desperately wanted that hit man’s phone, a few more (achingly slow, but at least they were there) twists of plot. So, I kept watching. As much as the show aspired to be glamorous noir, with thin scripts and stereotypical characters (props to Nestor Carbonell for doing as much as possible with a character so cliched he should be on Saturday morning cartoons), without a clear vision beyond ripping off the greats, it needed to, at the very least, get the show on the road.
Throwing mysterious assassins at Bridget-as-Siobhan was action, sure, but the character still functioned in dazed isolation, only confessing her feelings (if not the incriminating truth behind them) at her Narcotics Anonymous meetings. And, oddly, once the assassin was finished off, there were no further attempts to off Bridget-as-Siobhan. Siobhan’s husband Andrew (Ioan Gruffund) managed to dispel Bridget’s doubt about his motives and the storyline sputtered to a halt. It seemed we were stuck watching Bridget slowly unravel Siobhan’s story as if she were researching her family history at the library.
But by episodes four and five, lo and behold, we finally got some forward momentum. We discover Siobhan is up to no good in Paris, apparently seducing a gullible American who works for her husband in order to get privileged information. Gellar seems to relish an opportunity to play the bad girl and it’s a relief to see her step away from Bridget-as-Siobhan’s tortured role. But more importantly, Gemma (Tara Summers) finally unravels Siobhan’s affair with her husband, and Bridget-as-Siobhan is finally faced with an unpleasant decision — she can either confess her identity or let Gemma reveal to Andrew that Siobhan had been having an affair. Though Gellar hadn’t been given much to do other than look mildly panicked as Bridget-as-Siobhan up to that point, she finally had a scene into which she could sink her teeth, showing a mix of relief and fear that made perfect sense. Then, of course, episode five was largely Summers’ showcase, showing her grapple with betrayal and confusion and trust issues at every turn. But at least someone had a showcase.
That Gemma seems to have met an untimely end is disappointing (Gemma was quickly becoming the heart and soul of the show as she grappled with her husband’s cheating), but it does bode well for Kristoffer Polaha’s Henry to stir things up as a dangerously loose cannon. Though the body count seems a little high (what are the odds of two people killing and hiding bodies in five episodes?), at least we’ve abandoned the assassination attempts for drama that’s at least grounded in character. Ironically, as much as the show wants to be cool noir, it only seems to be truly alive when it allows itself to indulge its soapy side (which shouldn’t be a problem for “All My Children” grad Gellar). Problems still remain, but I’m hopeful that the show is finally finding its footing. But maybe someone should shut off the writers’ room access to period films on Netflix, just in case.