'Ringer' review: Will Sarah Michelle Gellar hang onto 'Buffy' fans?

ringer-sarah-michelle-gellar-ad-ew.jpgWith all the buzz generated by Sarah Michelle Gellar's long-awaited return to television, it's easy to forget that The CW's new mystery "Ringer" has not only a TV veteran star, but also a host of supporting players and, you know, a plot.

When we spoke with Gellar in May, she told us that she hoped her "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fans would make the transition with her to "Ringer."

"['Ringer' is] smart. 'Buffy' fans are smart," she told us. "They want to be challenged, they want to be able to think. They want evocative. This delivers it. Yet, at the same time, it's not trying to be 'Buffy.' Because nothing's going to be 'Buffy'."

Which is certainly true. Gellar plays two characters in "Ringer." Bridget is a recovering addict in Wyoming who, after being arrested for possession and prostitution, agreed to testify as a witness in a gruesome murder trial. The night before the trial, however, she assaults the cop guarding her and flees to New York City to see her estranged identical twin sister, Siobhan. The women haven't spoken in years -- it's implied that Bridget was involved in the death of Siobhan's son -- and no one in Siobhan's life, including her husband, knows that she has a sister at all.

During their reunion, Siobhan disappears, and Bridget, believing that she killed herself, assumes Siobhan's glamorous Upper East Side life. Siobhan's husband, best friend, and lover (who happens to be the best friend's husband) are unaware that she's an impostor.

Buffy is remembered and beloved for her unexpected strength and sharp wit. Bridget, however, will not be. She is a character driven by weakness - she finds herself repeatedly cornered and makes most of her decisions out of fear or desperation. Gellar appears older than her years in the role and does an excellent job portraying an exhausted woman who has been battered by her own choices.

Her portrayal of Siobhan is slightly less believable, mostly obstructed by Jackie-O sunglasses and distractingly cliche fashion choices. Siobhan is high-strung, and even her moments of vulnerability -- "I missed you" -- are calculated. The final time we see Siobhan in the pilot, she's so icy cool that she's almost a cartoon villain.

Indeed, we learn more about Siobhan when she's away, as a portrait is painted of a woman who doesn't love her husband, who may be pregnant with another man's baby, who is betraying her best friend, and, as we learn, who may have been plotting to kill her own sister.

Our major caveat with the pilot is the complete sense of hopelessness. We have trouble deciding whether we even sympathize with Bridget, and by the end of the hour, there are a multitude ofpeople out to get her (as herself and as her sister). That's not to mention her own addiction, which she's bound to succumb to eventually, given the fact that it's television. It's hard to imagine things will ever get better.

Still, we're setting our DVR to record it. The pilot was extremely plot-heavy, so we've got our fingers crossed that future episodes will tone down the action and dig deeper into the characters. Not to mention, a less-than-stellar pilot isn't enough to sway our faith in Gellar to bring us nuanced character development.

The same can be said for the rest of the cast. As Siobhan's high-society husband, Ioan Gruffudd's character could've felt cliche, but he brings an unexpected warmth to his relationship with his troubled daughter. "Life Unexpected's" Kristoffer Polaha plays out-of-work novelist Henry with an endearing honesty -- his love for Siobhan is inexplicable, but palpable. We're interested to see how he relates to Bridget from here on out, as both characters feel notably out-of-place in the world of wealth and privilege.

Nestor Carbonell, familiar to "Lost" audiences, is the FBI agent searching for Bridget. The laid-back, gentle way he plays a character on an urgent mission is enticing -- we can't help but wonder what, exactly, his agenda may be.

We'd also like to sing the praises of "The Good Wife's" Mike Colter. His character, Malcolm, is Bridget's AA sponsor, love interest, and only confidante. Of all of the relationships in the show, theirs feels the most genuine -- and reveals a brighter side of Bridget. She comes alive in their brief moments together, and we'll tune in to Episode 2 just to see more of that.

"Ringer" premieres on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. EST on The CW.

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Photo/Video credit: Getty Images
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