I am so glad that I haven’t seen enough Buffy to have any emotional investment in the characters or Sarah Michelle Gellar as an actress. Because if I did, I would probably be doing a whole of spin-control in my head today after I watched Ringer last night. I would be telling myself that pilots, especially wonky premise pilots, are almost always bad and that once free from pilot hell, Ringer should be able to loosen up a bit and become the noir-riffing, dumb-fun soap it has the capability of being. I would also be telling myself that Sarah Michelle Gellar and her arguably more-talented peers on the cast will be able to get more comfortable in their roles once they’re not spraying each other with thinly-veiled dualism metaphors and looking into reflective surfaces. All and all, I’d drive myself crazy trying to apologize for the problems with Ringer. *
*I understand that not all Whedon/Buffy/SMG fans are Kool-Aid-drinking cult members who can’t recognize crap when they see it, no matter who stars in it. But I’ve seen enough apologizing today to know that some people are those things. Anyway.
Fortunately, I haven’t seen Buffy and I don’t give a crap about Sarah Michelle Gellar’s “career,” so I don’t have to convince myself of anything. Unfortunately, I still watched Ringer. I never expected this pilot to be that good. From the beginning, the premise sounded entirely trifling and dumb and there seemed like a good reason why CBS wanted nothing to do with it, SMG hype aside. The script writers, Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder, wrote the second worst episode in Supernatural’s six-year history, which also didn’t instill me with much confidence. And then of course, the pre-air reviews were not good. I expected it to be problematic.
But not this problematic. Ringer, at least in the pilot stage, is terrible. I am certain there will be other pilots we see in the next couple weeks that are worse, but it might be close. The Ringer pilot is not fun, but it is very dumb. And poorly-paced. And overwrought. And terribly structured. And mostly poorly-acted. The noir-elements are both terrible and ruined by The CW’s typical pop music. There’s no real mood of paranoia or intensity, it’s just all glum sighs and rainy Vancouver imagery. This pilot has zero atmosphere, so the episode seems like it was filmed in a vacuum-sealed bag where no spark or personality was allowed to come in. Charmelo and Snyder’s script plays like the result of a few mediocre film students getting together, taking downers, watching Hitchcock and deciding to write the script while still on said downers.
I have no problem with watching dumb, but fun series. I do it all the time. But if you’re going to be so dumb, you probably need a little bit of self-aware zip to come along with you. This is especially true when your premise is so wonky and convoluted. You don’t want the audience spending so much time wondering why so many stupid people are making really stupid choices. We’re just supposed to go with it because that’s the way the world has been constructed. Maybe it’s heightened, maybe it’s just goofy, but that can be OK. Something like Smallville fits that description.
Ringer, however, forgets all of that and instead provides one morose, miserable scene after another. The characters are all miserable, they act miserable and the world around them appears miserable. The “luxurious” parties and penthouses look as though they cost approximately $900 to design. Bridget’s life sucks, Siobhan’s life not-so-secretly sucks, their boyfriend/sponsor/husband/sex toy’s lives suck and one of their best friend’s life sucks. Everyone’s holding in a secret, but are also just a few days away from suicide. Secrets and lies are fine, those things drive so much bad television these days. But the false sense of gravity and self-seriousness that everyone on this series carries with them is exhausting. No one is likable and worst of all, no one is remotely sympathetic because they all look like they are about to cry every single second of every single scene. Just get over it already.
This thing looks awful* and the performances are strained, but I think the structure and flow of the pilot bothered me the most. Stuff just happens without much regard for clarity – because everything’s a mystery! – and characters stumble through interactions with one another due to the fact that the script asks them to. The opening minutes with Bridget and Nestor Carbonell’s detective Machado are fine, but as soon as Bridget randomly decides to run and meet up with her sister, the episode screeches to a halt. Gellar is clearly uncomfortable acting against herself and Richard Shepard’s direction seems so interested in getting the right blocking for the best mirror shot that he forgot to ask his actress to bring some energy to set. By the time the episode meanders to the sisters’ time out on the ocean in a speed boat and Siobhan “dies,” I was ready to jump off a similar boat into the cold water as well – and I can’t swim. From there, it only gets worse.
*Apparently, most critics assumed that the terrible greenscreen work would be fixed by the time the pilot actually aired and they were shocked/amused to discover that it had not been. Like I said, I could have paid for this pilot’s production budget.
By refusing to explain much of anything in hopes of creating a certain sense of mystery and paranoia, Ringer loses any chance of doing just that. We don’t know what Bridget was mixed up in, why Siobhan hated her life and everyone in it or why Siobhan faked her death and then tried to kill her sister. None of it makes any sense, but none of it was developed enough to make me care anyway. Our lead character (Bridget) is already a pawn in a larger game that is probably stupid and she therefore has little agency and all the male characters seemed trapped in stock positions that aren’t ever going to become interesting until one of them dies or becomes a killer or something stupid like that.
I would like to think that Ringer has the opportunity to improve, but it is going to take a lot of changes to make that possibility into a reality. This pilot thinks that it sets the table for an intriguing story and instead dribbles out wretched dialogue, unlikable characters and a visible fetish for reflective surfaces. Ringer is not only not subtle, it is just so dumb that it is hard to see any glimmer of guilty pleasure fun in there.