Having come of age in the pre-VCR/DVD/DVR era, I have a soft spot for the sort of glossy B-movie melodramas that used to be a staple of local channels. Movies like Dead Ringer, a '60s potboiler starring Bette Davis as a woman who takes over her identical twin's identity. Any resemblance to the CW's Ringer may not be intentional, but it predisposes me to come along for the convoluted ride. (Comparisons to the twin-swapping shenanigans over at ABC Family's The Lying Game are also inevitable, but this is a much more clearly defined mystery thriller, and is aimed at a slightly more mature and sophisticated audience. It was developed for CBS, believe it or not.)
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The big news in Ringer is the return of Sarah Michelle Gellar, immortalized as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to the world of the weblet. In this enjoyable dual role, she gets to run the woman-in-peril gamut from scrappy waif to glamorous ice queen, playing estranged twins who reunite after six years apart. It's clear from the start that we're intended to root for Bridget, a recovering addict and former exotic dancer who flees Wyoming with the FBI (and agent Nestor Carbonell) on her tail, as the imperiled only witness to a murder. Her sister, Siobhan, married well and lives in metropolitan Manhattan luxury, though her tightly wound persona signals there's trouble in paradise.
We get a nice wry Buffy vibe in the moment when Bridget checks out Siobhan's digs and remarks, "It looks just like my house — except not at all." But soon, this house of mirrors (a recurring symbolic motif of duality) becomes a topsy-turvy funhouse of perilous secrets when Siobhan suddenly vanishes — mid-boat ride, a scene notable for its Hitchcockian artificiality — and Bridget, assuming she's dead, steps into her sister's pumps. The masquerade is partly possible because Siobhan never told anyone she had a sister: not her aloof husband (Ioan Gruffudd), not her resentful stepdaughter, not her insistent and lurking admirer (Kristoffer Polaha).
The initial fun of Ringer comes from watching Bridget walk on designer eggshells, trying to figure out this mystery of her new identity. "Siobhan, what did you do?" Bridget laments (into a mirror, of course) after unraveling yet another secret about why her sister's life appears to be such a miserable mess. Also potentially dangerous.
The first episode opens and closes on the cliffhanger of Bridget-as-Siobhan being stalked by an unseen menace, but which sister is the actual target? As long as Ringer keeps us asking questions like this, and Gellar keeps us engaged in the deluxe and twisted sister act, we're more than happy to be put through the romantic-suspense wringer.
Ringer airs Tuesdays, 9/8c, on the CW