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RINGER Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar (review)

Fiction thrives on coincidence, and one or two in any plot may strain credibility, but audiences are forgiving and they’ll usually let them slide unless they are particularly egregious. Some stories, however, pile on the coincidences, actually building their entire plot as a haphazardly constructed house of unlikely events and preposterous  characters. And despite such a mess of insanity, sometimes it actually works!
Such is the case with Sarah Michelle Gellar’s new CW series Ringer. I went into the pilot expecting to give up about halfway through, but instead kept watching despite the fact that everything about the series seems contrived and every note rang strangely false, except for Gellar’s performance as Brigid. Somehow she pulled this gigantic, almost incoherent mess together as a character who was at once strong and vulnerable and someone who has made a lifetime of mistakes, but now only wants to do the right thing.

Gellar plays Brigid, an alcoholic stripper/prostitute who witnessed a brutal murder, and is the star witness in a big trial. Of course the bad guy, a Native American crime boss, wants her dead. So she sneaks away from her guards and meets up with her twin sister, Siobhan, who lives a glamorous and rich life as a socialite. Oh no, I think. Twins?

Brigid and Siohban haven’t talked in years. Siohban confesses that her husband does not know that she even has a twin sister. Though they have drifted apart, the sisters begin an apparent mending of their ways, and go on a boat cruise. Brigid falls asleep on the boat, and when she wakes up, Siohban is gone, leaving her wedding ring behind.
Stalked by the mob and the police, Brigid does what anyone would do, and decides to pretend that she is her now (presumably) dead sister. Of course, even at this point in the show I knew her sister wasn’t dead, but I expected the series creators to reveal this card further down the line in the series.
Entering her sister’s life turns out to be pretty easy, because in TV Land, being a twin means being an exact double, except that she’s a little thinner and prettier. As Siobhan Brigid learns that she is estranged from her husband, that she’s having an affair with her best friend’s husband, and that she has to deal with her teenage stepdaughter. She also has to keep the police and the mob from figuring out that she’s replaced her sister, and, oh yeah, her sister was four weeks pregnant when she disappeared, so she has to pretend to be pregnant.
Ridiculous.
Of course, it can’t be that easy, can it? It turns out that someone also wants Siohban dead, and Brigid is stalked by a hitman, but manages to get the drop on him and survive. There’s some indication that the hitman was sent by Siohban’s husband (who seems to be (of course) involved in some shady business dealings) but the kicker is revealed at the end, when we see Siohban, “mysteriously” alive, living in Paris and receiving a phone call from someone who tells her that the assassination attempt on her sister went wrong.
So that’s the pilot in a nutshell. The series is going six different directions at once, and it’s all wrapped up around the ability of Sarah Michelle Gellar to find some sort of emotional through line that we as an audience can latch onto. And you know what? She pulled it off.
Brigid is desperate, but she’s committed to being a better person. She really wants to make her life better, and make better choices. And when push comes to shove, she can fight back as well.
Nestor Carbonell who played Richard Alpert on Lost plays an FBI agent. He looks appropriately lost here as he tries to sort out the various mysteries of the show. Kristoffer Polaha also has a role as Siohban’s best friend’s husband, which is convenient for him because this show replaces Life Unexpected, which he starred in last year.
One final note: When Shakespeare used twins and coincidences he knew enough to make it a comedy, not a drama. there is an aspect of this show that is so over-the-top and so crazed that it becomes hyper-melodramatic and veers into comedic territory. Of course, this ain’t Shakespeare.
Despite my reservations I’ll keep watching, for now.
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