July 6, 2011
 

THE SKED PILOT REPORTS: The CW’s “Ringer”

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Written by: Mitch Salem

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Disclaimer:  Network pilots now in circulation are not necessarily in the form that will air in the Fall.  Pilots are often reedited and rescored, and in some cases even recast or reshot.  So these critiques shouldn’t be taken as full TV pilot reviews, but rather as a guide to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.
RINGER –  Tuesday 9PM on The CW:   Potential DVR Alert

RINGER has both a high concept and enough plot for 3 ordinary series, but its main selling point is that it marks the return of Sarah Michelle Gellar to series television.  Hard as it is for some of us to believe, it’s been 14 years since Buffy Summers started keeping the world safe from vampires and other monsters, establishing (via Genius-in-Charge Joss Whedon) a tone and subset of genre that’s only grown more popular in the ensuing years.  Gellar is a genuine TV star, and in Ringer she’s as beset by melodrama (everything but the bloodhounds snapping at her rear end, to quote All About Eve) as the Slayer used to be.

Where to start?  In the pilot script by the team of Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder (they were previously writers on Supernatural), Gellar plays Bridget Cafferty, former stripper, former hooker, former addict, currently about to testify against a vicious Native American mob boss at his murder trial.  At the last minute, convinced the FBI (in the person of Nestor Carbonell–Lost‘s Richard Alpert–as Victor Machado) can’t protect her, Bridget bolts.  Her destination is the Hamptons, where her identical twin sister Siobhan Marx (also Gellar) has an estate, possibly just down the beach from the evil snobs of Revenge.  Bridget and Siobhan haven’t seen each other in years–something unspecified in their past is Bridget’s fault–but Siobhan takes her in.  Except… almost immediately afterwards, Siobhan vanishes, an apparent suicide.  So Bridget decides that the most effective way for her to disappear herself is to take over Siobhan’s identity.
We are, believe it or not, just starting.  (For those who think pilots can have spoilers:  Spoiler Alert ahead.)  Conveniently, Siobhan never told her husband Andrew (Ioan Gruffudd) that Bridget exists, so although he senses there’s something odd about his “wife,” he has no reason to suspect a substitution.  Nor does Siobhan’s bratty teen (and coke user) stepdaughter Juliet (Caitlin Custer), or Siobhan’s best friend Gemma (Tara Summers).  Gemma is more concerned that her husband Henry (Kristoffer Polaha) is having an affair–which he is, with Siobhan.  Oh, and Siobhan is/was–guess what?–pregnant.  And the FBI is still after Bridget.  And the guy Bridget thought was out to kill her?  Maybe not.  And I’m not even giving away the pilot’s final twist.
All of this, mind you, unfolds in about 40 minutes of screen time.  Ringer is stylishly ripe fun; it doesn’t stop to wonder whether it’s making any sense.  (The pilot is directed by Richard Shepard, who did the pilot for Ugly Betty; he seems to have rented every mirror in the general vicinity to repeatedly underscore the dualities and reflections in the plot.)  Even as you’re thinking how silly it all is, you can’t help wondering what’s going to happen next.
A crazy story like this needs an anchor, and Gellar knows her way around bizarre plotlines.  The pilot, though, currently takes itself too seriously, and thus wastes one of its biggest assets–in Gellar, they have a champion at the art of wisecracking in the course of heavy drama, and with a show that could desperately use a dose of sardonic humor, the writers need to make use of that skill if the series is to keep rolling along.  The other actors don’t get to do much more in the pilot than establish who their characters are–they seem to be hanging on for dear life–but in the course of episodes, one would think talented actors like Carbonell, Gruffudd and Polaha will make more of an impression.      

If Ringer can keep its complications aloft, it could prove addictive.  Its biggest challenges may be its network and timeslot.  Ringer was developed for CBS, which passed because the show doesn’t fit within that network’s brand (no procedural elements, soapy style).  It was then passed to CBS’s sister network The CW (co-producer ABC Studios dropped out at that point), but it’s an uneasy fit there;  Gellar isn’t in her 20s anymore, and this is a more serious soap than Gossip Girl or the show that serves as Ringer‘s lead-in, 90210.  That’s not the greatest match, and it’s not clear if Ringer will appeal to the young women 18-34 audience that’s The CW’s usual core.  Also, the Tuesday 9PM competition includes the Dancing With the Stars results show, NCIS Los Angeles, Biggest Loser and FOX’s strong Zooey Deschanel sitcom New Girl–none of them pushovers.  (The good news is that it doesn’t take much of a rating to be a “hit” on The CW.)  Can the show battle its way past all of that?  This is where Slayer powers could come in handy.  



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on screened.com and the-burg.com. In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."