Is 'Ringer' improving with age?
After a dismal start, is the Sarah Michelle Gellar show finding its footing?
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To say "Ringer" got off to a shaky start may be the understatement of the year. After a cornball pilot that was loaded down with a "Parent Trap" premise, a horribly cliched criminal subplot and some of the worst green screen scenes short of a student film, the show seemed stuck in ripping off film noir plotlines and even costumes. Still, I noticed glimmers of hope. As Bridget-as-Siobhan struggled to keep her identity hidden from Siobhan's closest friends, characters such as best friend Gemma and her deadbeat husband Henry (with whom Siobhan was having an affair) emerged to take focus off the dreary police procedural subplot and we discovered Siobhan's perfect life was anything but.
So, eighteen episodes in, how are we doing?
Well, "Ringer" has most certainly delivered on twists and turns. Keeping track of who is evil this week and who is lying about what may actually require a flow chart and flash cards as the twin sisters Bridget and Siobhan (both played by Gellar) navigate dangerous, labyrinthine plots that may or may not get one or both of them killed. Is Siobhan's husband Andrew (Ioan Gruffudd) in love with Siobhan (actually Bridget) or is he willing to kill her to protect the Ponzi scheme he's running (this week, it seems to be love -- if he survives being shot by an unknown gunman)? Is someone really trying to kill Bridget because she's Bridget or because she's pretending to be Siobhan? Is Bridget's long-suffering NA sponsor Malcolm (Mike Colter) just a sucker for punishment or… well, we actually know the answer to that one (yes).
Plot twists are thrown at us with the speed of dodge balls in the hands of fourth grade bullies. Even plotlines that initially seem straightforward, such as when Andrew's teen daughter Juliet (Zoey Deutch) accuses a teacher of raping her, are tangled into knots. See, it was actually a plot Juliet, the teacher and a classmate orchestrated to squeeze $10 million dollars out of Andrew. And the plot was actually the idea of Andrew's ex-wife. And she was sleeping with the teacher, not that Juliet knew anything about it. And she hired someone to beat up the classmate and… remember, this was a minor subplot. The rest of the show? Even more convoluted.
On the one hand, kudos to "Ringer" for trying hard to keep us guessing. The problem is, in creating endless twists and reversals, what's been lost is key to holding our attention -- character development. While Bridget is clearly the mushy soft center holding our interest (and Malcolm her loyal supporter) and Nestor Carbonell is another sympathetic but mostly wasted character as the stock detective, everyone else seems to flip flop from likable to possible psycho killer week after week.
As sweet-natured Bridget worked her charms on Andrew, it seemed the beleaguered husband was finally getting a second shot at love (albeit with someone who isn't really his wife). But when he finally confesses his instigating a Ponzi scheme at work to Siobhan/Bridget, Bridget suspects he's trying to kill her or Malcolm. But then he saves her life, so he was just the victim of bad lighting earlier in the episode. If it's confusing for Bridget, it's possibly more so for viewers, who have to move characters into and out of the good guy and bad guy columns repeatedly not just in a season, but in a single episode.
The other drawback of "Ringer"'s convoluted plotlines is that, in trying to tie up loose ends it's inevitable that logic occasionally gets tossed to the wind. Andrew has no clue that his wife isn't really his wife, but Siobhan's best friend quickly spots a missing tell-tale burn while Siobhan's driver sorts out he's escorting the other sister around town because she's not car sick. Yes, we can assume Andrew wanted to connect with Siobhan so badly he was willing to overlook some disparities, but given that Gellar's voice, stature and attitude are so different when playing the sisters, it's hard to believe anyone who knows about the identical twin angle doesn't figure it out. Most disappointing is Agent Machado (Carbonell)'s continued utter cluelessness. As talented as Carbonell is, it's difficult to watch him trudge through the usual determined detective tropes (and when he finally does get a plotline of his own, it's about him falling for one of his informants -- yawn).
Ultimately, the level on which "Ringer" probably works best is one Gellar is familiar with -- straight forward soap. There's a little more violence and better clothing, but mostly this show is just a twisty, fast-moving take on outrageous soap opera plotlines. Does it always work? No, but sometimes it's fun and, if you allow yourself to get caught up in the action, there's always another nailbiter around the corner. But if you haven't been watching, be forewarned -- jumping in now won't be easy.
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