Ringer: “Pilot”

Ringer styles itself as a fish-out-of-water tale, which may be why so many of its elements feel like they belong to other projects. The concept and the low-rent production design belong to a Lifetime movie – and not even Movie of the Week material, mind you, more like something they dump on at 1 a.m. on Saturday because they haven’t sold enough infomercial space that week. The wall-to-wall  teen-pop soundtrack (including a ponderous and inexplicable cover of “25 or 6 to 4”) belongs to…well, to any show on the CW, but it’s hilariously tone-shattering here. The unrelenting mirror symbolism belongs to some misbegotten DARPA project attempting to weaponize head-clubbing film school tropes.

And then there’s the lead, the show’s sine qua non. Sarah Michelle Gellar belongs to millions of fans’ memories of her previous series (something about werewolves, I think), and if not for allowing a marketing campaign built entirely around her return to television, there’s no way Ringer ever sees the light of day. It’s not that it’s bad per se – okay, it’s fairly bad – it’s just that it has no hook.

Gellar plays Bridget, your average down-on-her-luck ex-stripper drug addict with perfect teeth, hair, and make-up. She’s a key witness in the trial of a vaguely dangerous dude, as we learn when her channel surfing turns up a conveniently-timed report on the Exposition News Network. Fearing for her life (rightly so, since her police protection  amounts to one ineffectual plainclothes detective), she flees to Manhattan to reunite with her estranged twin sister, Siobhan (also Gellar), a socialite whose seemingly perfect life – you’ll want to sit down for this one – masks some dark secrets of her own.

This leads to a series of goofy scenes in which Gellar has airless conversations with herself, fraught with all the emotional weight of ordering off the drive-through menu. All the back and forth medium shots of Gellar talking to herself recalls nothing so clearly as the Gollum/Smeagol exchanges in the Lord of The Rings movies, yet Ringer suffers from the comparison because at least Gollum and Smeagol were distinct characters with identifiable motives.

Shortly thereafter, Siobhan disappears, having apparently determined suicide was the only way to escape the quickly mounting dullness. Bridget, needing a place to hide out from Vaguely Dangerous Dude, decides her sister’s gilded life is as a good a place as any, and sets about awkwardly inserting herself into an in media res story that lumbers sleepily through the motions of conveying hoi polloi malaise. Frigid marriage, malcontent teenager, torrid affair with the BFF’s hubby. Check, check, snooze.

It might even been mildly entertaining as soapy TV if any of the actors seemed like they were having fun; I don’t think the pilot even attempted a single laugh line, let alone any sort of comic relief presence, although the impending introduction of Jason Dohring of Veronica Mars fame might change that. Or if it were at least pleasant to look at, which shouldn’t be asking too much of a show set amidst the glitz and glamour of Central Park West. But the direction is inert, the pacing plodding, and the sets generic and dull. Although it must be said, the mere presence of sets is a huge step up from the early scenes in Siobhan’s, ahem, “beachfront home” and then on her “boat,” which deploy the most cutting edge green screen technology of 1994.

And then there are the mirrors. Oh, my, the mirrors. Not just mirrors, butmultiple layers of mirrors offering reflections upon reflections. I think I counted at least ten instances of this particular visual cue in about 45 minutes, totalling roughly 17,568 images of our heroine(s), not counting the amazingly gauche giant-ass portrait of SMG smack dab in the anteroom of Chez Siobhan.

Perhaps they aren’t truly a clunky metaphor, though. Perhaps we’ll learn in episode two that Siobhan has teamed up with long-time Flash nemesis Mirror Master for her nondescript nefariousness. If that happens, someone please let me know, because I’m sure as hell not going to watch to find out.

Other notes:

  • Had the show been picked up by CBS, where it was originally pitched, I gather they would have stuck with the original Chicago version of “25 or 6 to 4.” Or better yet, gone with a more fitting selection from their catalog instead – maybe “Just You and Me.”
  • During Bridget’s 12-step meeting, her sponsor advises her not to drink coffee so late. Yet there’s a window in the background which,  even with the shade drawn, is clearly lit as though it’s daytime. I guess mid-afternoon coffee wreaks havoc with your sleep now?
  • “You just need to forgive yourself.” – How does someone see this line in a script and not immediately realize they’ve made a huge mistake?
  • When Nestor Carbonell’s FBI agent goes to interview “Siobhan,” as is greeted by a look of petrified recognition as opposed to a look of “who is this guy and why is he in my house,” shouldn’t that set off alarm bells. Isn’t he supposed to be, y’know, a detective?
  • I didn’t get much into the supporting cast (mostly because I don’t remember much of it, except for Mr. Fantastic as Siobhan’s husband), but a glance at IMDB shows that one of the actors is named Tara Summers. I refuse to believe this is anything but another blatant sop to Buffy fans.

Originally published at The Vast Wasteland, Sept. 14, 2011.

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