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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
RINGER (The CW)
(written by Eric Charmelo & Nicole Snyder; directed by Richard Shepard; TRT: 40:40)
The network's description: "Sarah Michelle Gellar stars as a woman who, after witnessing a murder, goes on the run, hiding out by assuming the life of her wealthy identical twin sister - only to learn that her sister's seemingly idyllic life is just as complicated and dangerous as the one she's trying to leave behind. Bridget is six months sober and starting to turn her life around when she is the sole witness to a professional hit. Despite the assurances of her FBI protector, Agent Victor Machado, Bridget knows her life is on the line. She flees to New York, telling no one, not even her Narcotics Anonymous sponsor, Malcolm. In New York, Bridget reunites with her estranged twin, Siobhan. Wealthy, pampered and married to the strikingly handsome Andrew Martin, Siobhan lives what appears to be a fairy tale life - a life where no one knows that Bridget exists.
The sisters seem to be mending their frayed relationship, until Siobhan disappears mysteriously, and Bridget makes the split decision to take on her sister's identity. She discovers shocking secrets, not only about her sister and her marriage, but also about Siobhan's best friend, Gemma, and Gemma's husband, Henry. And when someone tries to kill Bridget in her sister's penthouse, she realizes she is no safer as Siobhan than she is as herself. The series stars Sarah Michelle Gellar as Bridget and Siobhan, Kristoffer Polaha as Henry, Ioan Gruffudd as Andrew Martin, Nestor Carbonell as Agent Victor Machado and Tara Summers as Gemma. RINGER is produced by CBS Television Studios and Warner Bros. Television in association with ABC Television Studios and Brillstein Entertainment with executive producers Pam Veasey ("CSI, NY," "The District"), Peter Traugott ("Samantha Who?") and Emmy Award-winner Richard Shepard ("Ugly Betty"). The pilot was directed by Richard Shepard."
What did they leave out? It was originally shot for CBS of all places.
The plot in a nutshell: Ex-stripper/recovering addict Bridget Kelly (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has had a hard go at it, developments that are compounded by the fact she's the key witness in ruthless mob boss Bodaway Macawi's murder trial. Rather than face the prospect of living in fear from Macawi's wrath, Bridget flees to New York in order to see her estranged twin sister Siobhan (also Gellar). She's not surprisingly - this is television after all - the complete opposite of her sister: polished, put together, wealthy and happily married. And in the pursuit of her figurative brass ring, she opted not to tell anyone about the hardscrabble Bridget, whom she had a falling out with years ago. It's an omission that actually works to Bridget's advantage as shortly after reuniting, Siobhan herself improbably disappears under mysterious circumstances.
Rather than stick around to answer questions, not to mention send up a flare to Macawi where she is, Bridget tries to pass herself off as Siobhan. It's a tactic that actually works, mostly because it turns out Siobhan is far from the glass menagerie she's purported to be: her husband Andrew (Ioan Gruffudd) barely speaks to her; her step-daughter Juliet (Caitlin Custer) can't stand her; and she's having an affair with Henry (Kristoffer Polaha), her best friend Gemma's (Tara Summers) husband. Still she's not quite out of the woods yet: Victor Machado (Nestor Carbonell), the agent assigned to protect Bridget, stumbles across "Siobhan" in his quest to find her; while Bridget herself it tempted to reach out to her sponsor Malcolm (Mike Colter) and spill the beans about what's going on. Ultimately, Bridget finds being Siobhan may be the most dangerous place to be after all.
What works: Director Richard Shepard infuses an almost Hitchcockian flair to the show that gives the usual soapy mechanizations (staring off into the distance, talking with your back turned, etc.) a sharper, almost creepy edge while a running motif involving mirrors further amplifies Bridget's internal conflicts. Say what you will about the actual plot and performances (don't worry, we will), but visually and atmospherically, boy does "Ringer" leave an impression. Those rallying to the show for Gellar alone will undoubtedly find plenty to root for and I must confess it warms my fanboy heart to see her on the small screen again.
That being said, there's something inherently claustrophobic about the way "Ringer" goes about its business - you almost spend too much time in Bridget's head, a feeling that's amplified by Gellar's frequently restrained performance. It's ultimately not so much a soap as it is an unblinking character study, one whose probing gaze never seems to turn away from Bridget. Thankfully by the end of the opening installment there's a much needed release of crazy as we learn there's even more to what's going on than originally thought. One hopes it will give "Ringer" a more fluid plot going forward rather than stopping to examine each moment with a piercing stare.
What doesn't: As expected there's a fair share of oh-no-they-may-learn-my-secret tropes, whether it's Juliet almost stumbling across a gun Bridget hid, everyone saying "Siobhan" looks like she lost weight, Gemma jokingly suggesting it's Siobhan having an affair with Henry or ominous figures that prove to be innocuous staring at her. To its credit though, "Ringer" tries to give a more nuanced take on them, such as Andrew calling "Siobhan" out on her newfound attitude (Andrew: "You're just so different. You're just relaxed and agreeable." Bridget: "And you don't like it?" Andrew: "No... I love it. I just don't believe it.") or Bridget leaning on her AA teachings to try and overcome her past ("Mistakes aren't tragedies. But please, Higher Power, help me learn from them!" is a frequent refrain). Even the show's big bet, that Siobhan never bothered to mention her twin sister to anyone, somehow comes off as making sense in its world. All in all, it's a distinctive entry into this year's crop...
The bottom line: ...and I'm curious to see where it goes.