I admit it. I liked ‘Ringer’ Season 1 (TV review)

CW publicity photo

I guess I shouldn’t speak of “Ringer” in the past tense just yet, although I would be surprised if it came back for a second season on The CW. If there is a Season 2, there are still threads worth exploring: Most notably the long-awaited face-to-face meeting of Siobhan and Bridget, but also more of Andrew and Juliet’s reaction to finding out Bridget was posing as Siobhan. They may hate Bridget now, but once they reflect on what Siobhan did, Bridget won’t look so bad anymore.

Still, I found Season 1 satisfying on its own. Sure, there were incredibly stupid elements: Everyone points to the green-screen ocean scene in the pilot episode (and indeed, that caused many people to bail on “Ringer” right out of the gates; oddly, the production values have been beautiful since then). The season finale includes a rather dumb development, too: Macawi’s second-in-command pops up again, explaining that he escaped from prison. Really? A plot that extended over four seasons of another show (“Prison Break”) is resolved off-screen here?

All that having been said, I liked this season of “Ringer.” Here’s why:

  • Sarah Michelle Gellar’s performance. I’m always wary when an actor I love for an iconic role takes on another role. I couldn’t make the transition with David Boreanaz from Angel to Seely Booth. I had trouble watching Gellar in “Cruel Intentions” back in 1999. But enough time had passed (eight years since the finale) that I was willing to follow Buffy into a new series. And I actually respect Gellar’s range even more now; when watching Bridget or Siobhan, I never think of Buffy. Furthermore, when watching Bridget, I never think of Siobhan, and vice versa. This is a remarkable accomplishment because Gellar isn’t merely playing two distinct characters (like Boreanaz playing Angel and Angelus, for example): Bridget has to look and act enough like Siobhan that we can believe she is fooling Siobhan’s husband, stepdaughter, secret lover, best friend, etc.
  • I like the characters. Even though Andrew (Ioan Gruffudd) is a Wall Street power broker, not exactly the most beloved type of person in America right now, I like the guy within the world of “Ringer.” Since everything that’s happening is slightly removed from reality, I appreciate everyone as game pieces shifting around a chessboard. Compare “Ringer” to another complex serial, “Revenge,” which only has one likable character, Jack. I recognize Emily as the hero of “Revenge,” but she’s still a cipher; Bridget may be playing a con game, too (and certainly, she’s no hero) but because the game doesn’t come easily to her, and because Gellar portrays emotions so well, I like her more than Emily.
  • I can follow what’s going on. I didn’t get every little thing in Season 1, but I understood the basic premise, which was repeated in the opening teaser all season long: “If Bodaway wants me dead, I’m dead” and “I saw a way out, and I took it. … I felt like I didn’t have a choice.” Compare “Ringer” to “The Secret Circle,” which also has a great cast and a great look but, even with the season almost over, still doesn’t know what it’s about.
  • It promised, and delivered, resolution. Part of the success of serial dramas like “Ringer” is how they play the media game. In early interviews, Gellar promised there would be no red herrings, and that the major plot points would be resolved after 22 episodes. She was right. By comparison, “The Killing” made a mistake by not making it clear from the beginning that its Big Answer would come after two seasons, not one. Although deliberately plotted, “Ringer” maintains forward momentum, not sideways momentum (another complaint about “The Killing”), and the tension of Bridget gearing up confess to Andrew in the finale was palpable. It reminded me of the wait for Dawson to tell Joey he loved her in the Season 1 finale of “Dawson’s Creek.”
  • The style. Is it film noir? Is it a prime-time soap opera? Well, it’s a bit of both, and I admit that something so intensely plot-driven probably won’t gain a deeper appreciation as time goes by (compared, for example, to the thematically driven “Fringe,” another dense serial, which will continue to find a following on DVD). Still, “Ringer’s” hoity-toity New York City is a world I enjoy visiting each week — this setting also drew me to “Gossip Girl” for awhile — although I wouldn’t want to live there.
  • I also like that “Ringer” never for a moment shies away from its genre. Things it was criticized for in the beginning — like episode two’s body in the trunk — are part and parcel of “Ringer,” and I ate up (almost) every ridiculously grand moment in Season 1: Siobhan stealing Bridget’s wedding band in the bathroom even as Bridget showers; Andrew’s ex-wife poisoning Bridget then having the fake-suicide backfire when Andrew unexpectedly comes home; heck, I didn’t even mind the teacher rape scam at midseason.

The earnest performances balanced out the incredible plot developments nicely, and I was able to suspend my disbelief and be engaged in “Ringer” in a way I’m not with “Revenge” or “The Secret Circle” (shows I wrongly ranked above “Ringer” at the end of 2011) or even “Fringe.” If it’s canceled, I won’t be crushed (although I am curious to see Gellar in the big Siobhan-Bridget showdown), but if I hear people say it deserves to hit the scrap heap, I’m going to beg to differ.

Any other “Ringer” apologists out there?

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