Sarah Michelle Gellar’s return to television has received almost as much attention as Tim Allen’s. Both have struggled with feature films and are going back to their beginnings in primetime, looking for lightning to strike again. But unlike Allen, whose Last Man Standing is nearly a carbon copy of his Home Improvement, Gellar has signed up for a character as far removed from Buffy as she could find. And not just one character either. She plays two.
As twin sisters Siobhan and Bridget, Gelllar’s tackling just about every melodramatic theme ever covered by a TV movie-of-the-week, from extramarital affairs and drug addiction to witness for the prosecution, murder, child loss, and identity theft. And all of this just in the first episode. It’s a lot on Gellar’s plate, maybe too much. Ringer is at times cleverly handled, suggesting numerous plot avenues for the future. Unfortunately, Gellar’s wooden performance in the premiere episode doesn’t bode well.
Ringer gets off to a tense and action-packed start, with an unknown assailant in a ski mask stalking Gellar at a secluded loft. After he chases her down and begins to choke her, she cries out, “You’ve got the wrong girl.” Cut to a few days before. We’re introduced to Bridget, a recovering addict, former exotic dancer, and occasional prostitute currently under the protection from FBI agent Victor Machado (Nestor Carbonell).
She’s due to appear in court as the lone witness to a mob murder. Feeling too weak and afraid to take the witness stand, Bridget escapes her bodyguard and hops a bus to New York after receiving an invitation from Siobhan, a wealthy socialite with some secrets of her own. The sisters meet up for a weekend in the Hamptons, which offers multiple opportunities for entertaining camerawork and split screen trickery, but things go awry during a boating trip. Bridget wakes up from a nap on the boat to find Siobhan missing, her wedding ring stuffed in a prescription bottle. Bridget recklessly decides to assume her sister’s identity, having learned that Siobhan kept her—Bridget—a secret from everybody, including her husband Andrew (Ioan Gruffudd).
Within a matter of minutes, the episode has piled on enough conflicts to fill an entire season. It spends the remaining 20 minutes introducing Bridget to her sister’s world of excessive spending, designer clothing, and the kind of fundraising benefits socialites apparently always attend. Bridget learns, along with viewers, that Siobhan was not only horrible, but also untrustworthy. In addition to being a cold trophy wife, she’s a cruel stepmother and the kind of woman who doesn’t mind having an affair with the husband (Kristoffer Polaha) of her best friend Gemma (Tara Summers). There’s more: Bridget’s secret identity, already precariously balanced, is jeopardized further by a phone call confirming that Siobhan was pregnant. The fact that Andrew overhears this call makes for more problems: now Bridget’s going to have to fake a pregnancy, too.
Siobhan’s brief appearance here serves as a set-up for the episode’s big reveal, already well known, as Ringer‘s promotional campaign has made clear Gellar is playing two roles. After the action finally catches up with the opening sequence with Bridget attacked in the loft, a tantalizing scene unfolds in Paris where Siobhan, alive, is alerted her sister survived the attack. So much for sisterly love.
This turn isn’t much of a shock to the viewer, given the uncertain terms under which Siobhan went missing, particularly that very significant wedding ring. While it hints at the twists and turns this noir thriller has planned for the rest of its season, it suggests as well the weight resting on Gellar’s shoulders.
There was a time when Buffy could bear any burden, but Gellar is not Buffy. It’s not clear at all that she’ll pull off both characters—apart or together. The first episode’s various riddles, betrayals, and ulterior motives can only lead to an unwelcome reunion for both sisters. Until then, if she’s looking for tips on faking a pregnancy, Bridget might begin to study up on the work of Jessalyn Gilsig.