In the rich treasure trove of evil-twin cinema, “Ringer” qualifies as a middle child. Sarah Michelle Gellar lands the enviable dual role of a former stripper facing witness protection who reconnects with her wealthy sister, only to have the latter abruptly disappear, leaving the confused woman to try walking a mile (or at least five seasons) in her Manolo Blahniks. There’s intrigue, murder and affairs all crammed into the busy premiere, but to survive even by CW standards will require a delicate balancing act that, based on first impressions, might be beyond “Ringer’s” reach.
Developed originally by CBS before finding a home at TV-niece CW, “Ringer” (no relation to ABC Family’s conceptual dead-ringer “The Lying Game”) is more grown-up than most of the netlet’s fare, though Gellar’s link to the channel’s history as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” still makes the show feel “on brand,” or whatever the kids call it these days.
Being pressured to testify regarding a mob hit, Gellar’s Bridget goes AWOL. Frightened, she takes refuge with sis Siobhan, who outwardly has the perfect life and has kept her existence a secret. So Bridget is understandably flustered when in the midst of reconnecting, her other half appears to commit suicide, leaving her to decipher Siobhan’s husband (Ioan Gruffudd), who seems baffled when she rather demurely kisses him.
Then there’s the little matter of Siobhan’s friends — including pal Gemma (Tara Summers), who suspects her hubby (Kristoffer Polaha) of having an affair — plus the question of who’s trying to kill her, and the government agent (Nestor Carbonell) who remains in hot pursuit of Bridget.
The producers have lots of fun with split-screens and stand-ins to realize Bridget and Siobhan’s scenes together (though I’ll miss the uncorrected pilot’s awful green-screen effects), but the larger mystery — as Bridget sorts through her sibling’s complicated life via the tidbits others divulge — is the real gist of the show. And that’s an alluring if fragile fishing line on which to hang these soapy proceedings.
Gellar certainly has a prime profile for such an enterprise, but as initially written, her double role isn’t as meaty as it could be, primarily leaving her to react to fast-moving events thrown her way.
Adopting a kitchen-sink approach, “Ringer” dumps out so many bread crumbs at the outset it’s hard not to wonder where they might lead. The flip side of that, though, is the risk that viewers will gradually give up the scavenger hunt if those crumbs are not arranged just right.
At a glance, there’s little mystery why CW leapt at the chance to add “Ringer” to its arsenal; still, any resemblance between the pilot and a truly addictive, first-rate soap/mystery is by no means identical.