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Television review: 'Ringer'

Sarah Michelle Gellar returns to TV in the CW's twin-themed thriller.

September 13, 2011|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Sarah Michelle Gellar stars as twins in "Ringer."
Sarah Michelle Gellar stars as twins in "Ringer." (The CW )

The return of beloved "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" star Sarah Michelle Gellar to television has sparked the sort of twitchy fan-ticipation previously reserved for a "Sex and the City" movie. But three minutes into "Ringer," it's easy to see why CBS passed the twin-themed thriller on to its kid sister, the CW. Skidding through twists and turns aplenty, the intentionally soapy plot generates a lot of fun froth, but Gellar has a hard time playing one troubled and complicated woman, much less two.

To be fair, twins are difficult, even for accomplished thespians like Jeremy Irons ("Dead Ringers") and John Lithgow ("Raising Cain"). Patty Duke pulled it off as identical cousins in "The Patty Duke Show," though the most famous cinematic twins remain Hayley Mills (and later Lindsay Lohan) in "The Parent Trap." In both "Patty Duke" and "Parent Trap," the characters were drawn as broad opposites — minuet versus rock 'n' roll, city girl versus country gal — and given different accents to aid both actress and audience.

"Ringer" stops short of giving one twin a phony boarding school lockjaw but it does shamelessly embrace the Different World trope — Bridget Kelly and Siobhan Martin are also as different as night and day (although, miraculously enough, neither has done anything drastic to separate herself from her twin, like dye her hair, have plastic surgery, pierce her nose or even get a tan). Indeed, Gellar, creators Eric C. Charmelo and Nicole Snyder ("Supernatural") and director Richard Shepard ("Ugly Betty") spend so much time and energy establishing how different the women are that there's not much left over to make them believable.

Bridget we meet in an NA meeting — her six-months sobriety is supposed to explain why this former stripper and recovering drug addict looks so wholesome and healthy. No attempt, however, is made to explain why she's living in Wyoming, where she is also the only witness to a murder committed by a local mobster so fearsome that she does not believe the FBI can protect her. (The agent is Victor Machado, who is played by Nestor Carbonell, still cloaked in "Lost"-ian immortality.)

Before testifying, Bridget hears from her long-estranged twin, Siobhan, now a Park Avenue housewife with requisite oversized sunglasses, white slacks and a scarf. So after giving the FBI the slip, Bridget shows up at her sister's "weekend place" at the beach. Before you can say "Sarah Michelle Gellar, you are going to have to do more than put your hair in a bun and look kind of mean to play a whole other character," the sisters are takin' a little boat ride. When Bridget wakes up from a nap, Siobhan is gone, having, apparently, thrown herself overboard (ha ha ha).

So Bridget does what any self-respecting, on-the-lam, six-month sober stripper would do — she pretends to be Siobhan. Because, as she tells her NA sponsor Malcolm (Mike Colter) in a tearful expositional phone call, it was so easy. "Everyone believes I'm Siobhan," she says, having encountered exactly one person from Siobhan's life — her cold and distant husband Andrew (Ioan Gruffudd).

Still, there remains something undeniably compelling about watching a person try to fake their way through another person's life. Although no one would call Gellar a subtle performer, her Bridget-as-Siobhan is engaging and likable.

Because Siobhan is — and this cannot be considered a spoiler as the entire plot of the pilot has been given away in promotion — not dead.

So in a way, the pilot is preface — the real action, and work, begins in Episode 2. We can hope for the best — "Ringers" does not pretend to be anything but good high-carb fun — but an hour in, one finds oneself concerned more with Gellar than with either of the twins, who seem more products of dress-up than actual people. Gruffudd does what he can, but the show is Gellar's to win or lose. And in this case, there's no re-casting, or blaming, the costar.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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