Loyal Sarah Michelle Gellar fans (some of whom did their PhD work in that core discipline called Buffy Studies) are desperate to know whether her return to TV will slake the thirst that plagued them since the last episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” aired eight years ago. For reasons best left to dissertations, everyone adores Gellar — skinny legs and all.
Her new drama, “Ringer,” gets an early jump on the fall TV season when it premieres Tuesday night on CW, but it is probably not quite the show her fans or anyone else hoped for. Though handsomely assembled from the spare parts of a dozen other evil-twin stories that came before it, “Ringer” quickly downgrades itself to a fairly ho-hum night soap.
Gellar plays Bridget and Siobhan, twin sisters with opposite lives. Bridget, a recovering addict and former stripper, flees Wyoming just before she’s scheduled to testify in a federal criminal case against a malevolent American Indian mob boss. Nestor Carbonell (the lustre-lashed immortal islander from “Lost”) plays a federal agent now hunting Bridget down to take her back. He also needs to find her before the bad guys do.
Bridget takes a bus to New York to reconcile with her estranged twin, Siobhan, a wealthy socialite who lives in the Hamptons and Manhattan. The sisters haven’t seen each other in six years. As it is with twins in make-believe land, they look exactly alike, down to the rooty streaks in their blond tresses.
Just so we’re clear: Hair up in a bun means Siobhan; hair down and prettily tangled means Bridget. It’s amazing how much “Ringer” feels like a TV trunk show for fall fashions. Bridget, who’s been working her way through the 12 steps of recovery, models the latest in distressed jeans, perhaps to actually symbolize distress. Icy Siobhan works a post-Halston series of diaphanous goddess gowns and obscuring Jackie O. sunglasses, which symbolize wealth and frigidity. “Ringer” is addicted to visual shorthand in all things, which can make the show seem dumber than it is (or its potential viewers dumber than they are).
Anyhow, Siobhan may be more in desperate need of help than Bridget. Almost as soon as Bridget arrives, the two set off on a sisterly motorboat trip on the Long Island sound. Bridget nods off for a nap and when she wakes, Siobhan has vanished, having left behind her wedding ring and an empty bottle of sleeping pills. This leads to much splashing around and crying of Siobhan’s name — Shuh-vahn! SHUH-VAHHHHHN! (If nothing else, might the many ways Gellar intones the word Siobhan — say it soft and it’s almost like jabbing a mascara wand in your eyeball — lead to some sort of drinking game for despondent Buffy fans?)
As anyone who knows anything about “Ringer” now knows, once Bridget realizes Siobhan is gone (Shuh-vahhhhnnn, whyyyy?) she rather quickly dries her eyes and avails herself of the fortunate opportunity to assume Siobahn’s identity. All she has to do is put her hair in a bun and she’s done.
It’s handy because Siobhan never mentioned to anybody that she had a stripper twin sister in Wyoming — not to her aloof, fancypants husband (Ioan Gruffudd), not to her Manhattan-manic best friend (Tara Summers), and not to her best friend’s husband (Kristoffer Polaha), with whom, Bridget awkwardly discovers, Siobhan was having a torrid affair. Oh, and? Someone wants to kill not-Siobhan just as bad as someone else wants to kill actually-Bridget!
Crazy, crazy. While it might have been fun to spend several episodes watching as Bridget clumsily acquires the basic details of Being Siobhan (I have a teenage stepdaughter who hates me — who knew? I was supposed to be at the doctor’s office learning my shocking test results? Oops!), “Ringer” instead makes the calculated error of hurrying through most of its better plot twists in this first episode. Further episodes now seem like a tedious and even redundant prospect.
(one hour) premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on CW.