The pilot premiered last night to solid ratings but the reviews have been mixed. My favorite TV critic, Alan Sepinwall, is unimpressed:
I watched the pilot last night in spite of his review, and found myself surprised. It was clunky at times, and yes, a little implausible, but it leaves open many possibilities. The only way to explain my cautious enthusiasm is to discuss a plot twist that wasn't so surprising. If you haven't seen it and are absolutely allergic to spoilers, stop now.To have her back on the small screen that made her a star - and on a network made up of the remnants of the two networks that aired "Buffy" at different stages of its life - is understandably exciting for some.But "Ringer" unfortunately doesn't seem like a better use of her talents than any of the movies she's starred in since "Buffy" ended.Sure, she gets to play a pair of identical twins - one (Siobhan) allegedly good, one (Bridget) bad - and even briefly interact with herself, but the show is stiff and dull, the characters (including both twins) thin, the situations laughable - even though it isn't trying to be campy fun.
The protagonist of the episode, Bridget, is an ex-stripper and recovering addict who is scheduled to take the stand against a mobster. She was the only eyewitness to a murder he committed, and is under police protection. She gets the jitters, assaults the officer guarding her, steals his pistol, and hops a bus. She meets up with her twin, Siobahn (pronounced Sha-BON in the show), a wealthy socialite who she hasn't spoken to in years. Their estrangement has been so complete that Siobahn's husband is unaware of his sister-in-law's existence. The source of the tension is that Bridget is in some way responsible for an unspecified bad thing that happened to someone named Shaun. A later reveal suggests that Shaun is Siobahn's deceased son. But Siobahn tells Bridget she is forgiven, even if she says it half-heartedly.
The sisters head to Siobahn's lake house and go for a boat ride. While Bridget doses off, Siobahn jumps off the boat, leaving behind an empty pill bottle with her wedding ring. Bridget does what would only be obvious to a character in a show like this: she assumes her sister's identity.
This is where the episode gets interesting. While Bridget-as-Siobahn stumbles through her newly inherited life, she starts to learn who her sister really was, and the revelations aren't pretty. Her marriage is crumbling, her stepdaughter hates her, and she's been having an affair with her best friend's husband. I could get used to the soapy nature of the show. Bridget, in spite of her dubious past, is apparently morally superior to her sister: her instinctively kind behavior towards her husband and stepdaughter are perceived as some sort of trick, and she immediately breaks off the affair, for reasons that sound uncharacteristic to Siobahn's lover.
Bridget is not free of her own problems either. She shares her secret with her Narcotics Anonymous sponsor, who is being followed by the evil crimelord with an interest in killing the only witness to his crime (at least that's what we are led to believe). And the FBI agent tracking her shows up at Siobahn's penthouse thinking he is talking to Siobahn. Bridget tries to claim that the sisters had no contact, which the fed discovers learns to be untrue. She is also being stalked by a man she doesn't recognize.
The end of the episode involves her stalker attacking her unsuccessfully. This is the part of the episode where Gellar's Buffy past comes back to haunt her. While we are led to believe that Bridget can take care of herself (she did take down a cop at the beginning), it is also realistic that she would have something to fear from a random attack. But I have trouble believing that Bridget would hide from the attacker, run from him, struggle with him, only to be saved by stumbling onto her stolen gun. Within the context of the show, it makes sense, but part of me illogically expects her to turn into Buffy and round kick the bad guy. She finds a picture of her sister in the newly dead attacker's pocket. The big reveal at the end of the episode is a call to Paris informing a not-actually-dead Siobahn that "we have a problem."
There are a lot of elements at play in this pilot, and while no single plot point should have been surprising to me, the sheer volume kept me slightly in the dark. For one thing, the Bridget-as-Siobahn storyline, while not used in a very original way, is not employed with too heavy a hand either. There is no voice over, soliloquy, or expository dialogue explaining how Bridget is emotionally reacting to the unpleasant realities she's learning about her sister. And because I'm used to many of the borrowed ideas from body switch comedies and stories about amnesiacs, I had to remind myself that Bridget was not inheriting the pregnancy along with the wealth, family, and social status.
And the end of the episode leaves a lot of unanswered questions. What is Siobahn doing, and why did she abandon her life? Did she intend for Bridget to assume her identity? Did she send the attacker? Did she know she was being stalked, and set her sister up by default? If so, what motive did the attacker have, and who, if anyone, is he working for? What were the circumstances of Shaun's death, and does she harbor resentment towards Bridget because of it? How will Bridget handle the pregnancy that's not actually hers (which Siobahn's husband learned about)? What will the FBI agent find out?
There are all sorts of ways for this to go, and I look forward to finding them out.