In Defense of Ringer, Which Has Been Canceled

05/14/2012 1:32 PM |

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It was the second episode that got me hooked. A hitman had tried to kill Bridget—who was pretending to be her sister Siobahn, who had faked her own death, only Bridget thought she was really dead—but Bridget-as-Siobahn had managed to kill him instead. But then what to do with the body? She left it in the downtown Manhattan loft space Siobahn’s husband was paying to renovate, and then decided maybe she shouldn’t pretend to be her sister after all. But she got sucked back when her “husband” announced he’d throw a party—at the loft! And proceeded to try to win over new investors to his struggling hedge fund, all while a dead body was right under their noses. The episode was positively Hitchcockian (and I don’t toss that adjective around) in its playful, increasingly urgent cliffhangers at every commercial break—there’s blood seeping out of the trunk in which she hid the body!—climaxing with the one that made me laugh out loud: when the dead man’s cell phone started ringing in the middle of Siobahn’s husband’s speech. How’s she gonna get out of this one? I had to know.

No episode of Ringer, which the CW canceled last week, was ever as good as that one, but it was a masterpiece of serialized storytelling, leaving your mouth open not only at the end of every episode, but before every set of advertisements. In the second half of its first season, it was more just great melodrama, storytelling so knotty it’s impossible to describe. I tried once, when my girlfriend came over as I was finishing an episode on Hulu, and I attempted to explain the basics of what was happening, but I could barely even explain who the characters were: “that’s her husband, but it’s not really her husband, and he doesn’t know she’s actually not his wife.” It’s a testament to the writers, directors, and producers—and to Sarah Michelle Gellar herself—that they were able to tell their impossible story so clearly: you always knew when SMG was the ex-drug addict runaway witness, when she was the wealthy faked-suicide Manhattan schemer, and when she was the first pretending to be the second. Ringer may not have been great television, but it was made greatly.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart