Pilot Watch: ‘Ringer’
“Siobhan killed herself. I don’t know why she did it. I’m the only one that knows that she’s dead. I saw a way out and I took it. I was so scared. The cops were after me . . . I felt like I didn’t have a choice. It was so easy, Malcolm. I mean, they all think I’m her. They all think I’m Siobhan.”
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Before you read this review, I need you to ask yourself one question: Why do you watch television? I watch television for a lot of different reasons. I watch it to feel comforted, to enjoy myself, to be informed, and to challenge myself, and I watch it as an exploration of the world around me. The great shows are the ones who can do all of those things, but most shows only regularly achieve one or two, maybe three if they’re lucky. Because I consume television both on an intellectual level and an emotional level, and because I am a fickle human being, my television “needs” often vary from day to day, even hour to hour. It’s the great ones that stick with you, but sometimes we as viewers just need something else. If I’ve had a hard day, sometimes I just want some Gilmore Girls, you know? Some Stargate SG-1. Sometimes we need vintage, well-aged wine, and sometimes we need an oreo milkshake. Think of it as fluff. My fluff is relatively mindless, often ridiculous, and always highly emotional. Mileage on your particularly brand of fluff may vary, but it remains fluff nonetheless. Ringer is fluff. Ringer is an oreo milkshake, and attempting to compare it in any way to its wine counterpart makes both you and the wine look kind of silly.
I wasn’t planning on writing about Ringer at all, but my opinion of the pilot was different enough from the majority that it seemed worth it to take a little extra time out of my day to try to sort out my thoughts (and share them with you all, of course). The difficulty in this lies in separating SMG’s seven seasons of work as Buffy Summers from her portrayal of estranged identical twins Bridget and Siobhan. This might actually be completely impossible, but I think it’s important to at least try to compartmentalize the two, judging Ringer on it’s own merits (whatever those might be). So let’s just face it up front: there ain’t no show on the air today that combines pathos and humor with thematic exploration and character development the way that Buffy the Vampire Slayer did consistently from 1997-2003, and all filtered through the lens of the wonderful and much under-appreciated art of the fantastical metaphor, no less. (Doctor Who is a possible exception to this statement, but it’s not even an American show, and probably shouldn’t count). Quite simply, judging what is essentially a second-hand soap opera (one of CBS’s leftovers) on the same scale as what is now arguably a founding classic of the serialized “quality television” era is simply monumentally unfair.
With all of that said, and despite the fact that I will openly I admit that I thoroughly enjoyed myself while watching it, the pilot for Ringer simply isn’t that good.
Probably it’s worst sin is the fact that watching it is eerily reminiscent of watching a Lifetime Original Movie (a quality that might account for my enjoyment of it, now that I think about it . . . like a lot of young women my age, I have a strange attraction to Lifetime Original Movies that just can’t be explained). But Lifetime movies are one thing, and pilots for network television programs quite another. Speaking objectively (i.e. with my inner fanatic turned off), Ringer‘s pilot features a script that squanders great potential with dull, opaque dialogue and dour, unhappy characters. Writers Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder, whose biggest credits to date are a couple of episodes from Supernatural‘s sixth season, seem to have no feel for how to structure their story to get the most out of its potential. They also have a tendency to use overly broad metaphors (shots of Bridget and Siobhan in front of mirrors are, shall we say, abundant?) in place of substantial dialogue. But even a great script can be ruined by poor direction and editing. For instance, that in media res opening seemed to have no point to begin with, but the potentially creepy and effective use of Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” is ruined by the cheesy score piped over it. What could have been a subtle, eery moment turns into stinky gouda, and not even the good kind. That moment is really emblematic of what’s wrong with the pilot as a whole: it takes itself too seriously. I said earlier that critics would be amiss to compare Ringer to a great television show, but Ringer itself seems to be unaware of its own genre shortcomings. Instead of throwing all this overly broody melodrama at us, depressing poorly cut scene after depressing poorly cut scene, they should be having fun with it. Don’t they know how funny Sarah Michelle Gellar can be?
Especially these days, pilots need to impress right out of the gate in order to get the ratings to even remain on the air for more than two or three episodes. I can think of quite a few shows from the past two decades that had pilots, even whole first seasons at the same quality level of Ringer, but which eventually found their groove and evolved into watchable, successful television. If Ringer had been picked up by CBS, or if it didn’t star SMG in not one, but two main roles, I feel pretty safe in saying that it would probably have been canceled almost instantly, but it does air on the CW, and it it does star Sarah Michelle Gellar, and that gives it an advantage most shows these days just don’t have. I hope the show will have the time it needs to grow into the show it has the potential to be, and that the showrunners don’t take its high ratings (2.84 million viewers, a three year high for the CW) as an indicator of its quality.
I’m going to keep watching Ringer, not just out of loyalty or curiosity, but because I miss the days when TV shows had time to grow and find themselves. I want to give this show a chance, and I think you guys should, too. I would like to see how Bridget’s relationship with all of Siobhan’s men develop. I would like to learn what shenanigans Siobhan is up to. I want to know what happened to baby Sean. I want to know who is going to have sex with who, and if they’re going to get caught. I want to know who’s going to fall tragically and horribly in love. I want lots of kissies and smoochies, and I want them to do it all with devious smiles on their faces. I want to have fun watching this show, I just want that fun to be a reflection of what’s actually on the screen, and not just a dull reflection of my beloved SMG’s former glory.
See what I did there?