TV Review: Ringer – Pilot

E: I mistrust pilots that are actually titled “Pilot.”  That’s probably not fair, but I think it says something in this case about the way the writers took a crazy concept which could have been stylized and fun, and instead rushed through it and left it flat. Really, for a fan of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s, it’s upsettingly generic.

C: Really, for any person who likes interesting TV, it’s boringly preposterous – which is a bad combination.

E: And the thing is, it’s a crazy, pulpy, unbelievable concept, but because of that, it could’ve been a hugely stylized, campy joy.  I’m sure it sounds mad to say that they didn’t go far enough – but they didn’t.

C: What they didn’t do is sell this as a world unlike enough to our world to give us a reason to suspend our disbelief. The commercials aired during the show tried to sell this as noir, but noir has a certain vibe to it, a stylized feel that goes beyond simply being from another era. It’s a harsher, darker – heh – world in which people act most often on impulse and passion, everyone you meet is a suspicious character, and the air tingles with sultriness and danger.

E: Exactly!

C: Were it not for those ads, I’d have had no idea that was the vibe they were going for.

E: Maybe my favorite thing about the pilot was the way it opened with someone beating the snot out of Buffy.  Way to differentiate Sarah’s old and new characters!

C: If I had a favorite thing, I guess it was Ioan Gruffudd, only I was too puzzled as to why he was there to really appreciate him.

E: Yes.  Problematic.  Let’s look at the show as a whole first, though.  I pretty much knew the plot outline from reading about the show, but that can’t really account for the way that the pilot rushed through major revelations.  I didn’t have time to be stunned or horrified when appropriate.  It all felt like we were ticking off numbers.  “This is the information we need to establish; let’s get it out as quickly as possible.”  It felt like the writers found the introductory episode a tedious chore, and because of that, so did I.

C: It was so weird how we jumped from event to event without lead-up or reaction. Estranged twins meet again after 7 years apart, due to some hinted at family tragedy.  Bridget (Gellar with loose, curly hair) is a waitress/former stripper recovering from a substance abuse problem and on the run from the Feds, who want her to stand witness against a gangster who murdered a fellow dancer – and I think from the gangster himself, now released?

E: Yep, that’s right – double your dubious pleasure all around.

C: Twin Siobhan (Gellar with more make-up and a tight bun) has a perfect life in Manhattan, or so it seems – wife to financier Andrew (Gruffudd) and stepmother to Juliet. They meet up, exchange apologies about some incident in the past we don’t know about, and then Bridget wakes up on a boat to find Siobhan has apparently thrown herself off.

E: Deciding off screen to taking over Siobhan’s life, down-on-her-luck Bridget is immediately a fish out of water. Siobhan has a big photo of herself to greet you as you walk in her door, an enormous wardrobe full of white headscarves (is she secretly Muslim?), and a hot affair going on with her best friend and interior decorator Gemma’s husband (okay, not Muslim).  You’d think that’d be enough for one episode, but oh, no.

C: Anyone who knows twins is bound to be skeptical of the notion that one could carry on pretending to be the other for any length of time, especially since the sisters haven’t even interacted for most of a decade. Conveniently, though, Siobhan hasn’t told anyone – even her husband – that she has a sister. Still, Bridget confuses him immediately simply by being pleasant.

E: Andrew flinches when Siobhan even speaks to him.  Everyone seems to expect the nastiest, most cutting remarks whenever she opens her mouth.  Bridget’s a Pollyanna in comparison.

C: And then, at the point where we start to think Bridget’s put herself more at risk rather than less, this is confirmed when someone tries to kill Siobhan. A cut-away then shows that she did not in fact throw herself into the wide ocean (surprise surprise), but is hiding in Paris for nefarious ends of her own.  Oh. And is pregnant. So hubby Andrew now thinks Bridget is.

E: Which was all ridiculous – why would Bridget go along with something that’s so clearly going to prove false?  Because pretending to be the sister you hardly know isn’t hard enough?  Why didn’t she just offer to go and be retested?  Or just keep her mouth shut and not echo what the doctor said?  The baby’s father is most likely BFF Gemma’s husband Henry, rather than Andrew.  Andrew’s got to know they haven’t been sleeping together.  Also?  Bridget is not pregnant!  So clearly this is not information to pass on.  On the other hand, it does give Bridget’s alcoholic an excuse to turn down booze, something she sorely needs to do.  (That detail – the constant challenge of drinks which people keep pressing on Siobhan – was another of the few things I liked.)

C: Yes, and the fact that the Andrew’s daughter has been kicked of boarding school for drug use will present another challenge for her, it seems.

E: Indeed.  Point of order; when the twins are together,  Bridget appears about four inches shorter.  Siobhan’s shoes are definitely not that high!  So how can  Siobhan’s husband Andrew – and everyone else – not notice this when fugitive Bridget takes the apparent suicide’s place?  I found it off-putting, anyway – I was trying to buy into the concept and found it distracting.

C: Um, obviously it’s the shoes – they’re both Gellar.

E: I think it’s much more likely that the CGI folks were trying to distinguish the sisters, and didn’t really think about what that would mean.  Cause I looked at the shoes, C.  They literally weren’t that high.

C: I don’t think they need CGI for that sort of thing, but just simple camera tricks. Anyway…

E: I will say I was fascinated to see The Good Wife‘s gentlemanly drug kingpin Lemond Bishop (the excellent Mike Colter) in the role of Bridget’s AA sponsor/boyfriend.  And I generally like Nestor Carbonell and his permanent eyeliner, and Kristoffer Polaha as Siobhan’s adulterous lover.

C: You liked him? Total creeper. Ugh.

E: Well, I didn’t like his character.  I generally like him, and I thought he was properly creepy here.  And of course, what can I say about Ioan Gruffudd?  Horatio Hornblower, I’m a fan.

C: Was it just me or did you think initially that it was him having an affair when Bridget walked in on what turned out to be the step-daughter having sex? That was very confusing.

E: Oh my gosh, I was incredibly confused.  Especially since Siobhan has no reason to know what Juliet looks like, and Andrew had just visited her in London, and no one else lived there!   Yet another example of bad plotting.  Now, as you mentioned above, the [insert annoying wanna be search engine sponsor here] commercial promised us film noir, which took me aback a bit.  Now I can see that Siobhan’s wardrobe owes a debt to Kim Novak and other Alfred Hitchcock leading ladies…

C: Big sunglasses do not make you Kim Novak.

E: No, they do not.  I can see where the musical choices came from, too, but they came off as dated instead of an homage.  It doesn’t have to be like that! The Hour, for example, brilliantly deploys noir conventions, but it can use that music because it’s actually set in 1956.  Veronica Mars proved you could do modern noir on TV, use a modern soundtrack that conveys isolation, betrayal and loneliness, and make it feel fresh.  That’s what Ringer needs, some real atmosphere, that true undercurrent of dread and fear.

C: And that’s just what Ringer didn’t have – or really any sense of style, atmosphere, or anything to engage the viewer’s emotions at all.

E: Do we care who Sean is, and why Siobhan is such a completely evil monster?  Was it Gemma who tried to have Siobhan/Bridget killed, or was it Siobhan herself?  In what way is Bridget messing up Siobhan’s plan – by pretending to be Siobhan, or by actually being nice, or something else we can’t know yet?  Why on earth is Bridget going along with this pregnancy charade?  Why does she want to stay with Andrew?  Is it just that he isn’t pressing her for sex and Henry is, or does she actually care that Siobhan is married to him, despite his low opinion of her?  (Speaking of which, Bridget seems very sweet, gentle and sexually reticent for a stripper/prostitute, no?  I’m not saying she should be ready to jump into bed with her brother-in-law, of course.  It’s just clear they’re really pursuing this bad/good girl thing with her.)  Also, what’s Bridget going to do with the dead body of her would-be assassin?

C: Eh. Leave it there. Who cares?

E: Not us. Verdict: not stylized or smart enough to pull off what it wants to be.  And that’s too bad, because I’d be a lot more interested in the show it wants to be.  Can Ringer find its voice?

C: I doubt I’ll be tuning in to find out.

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