September 14, 2011

Two For The Price Of One

Judging a show on its pilot episode can be tricky.  It's hard to win people over with heavy exposition and that's basically all pilots are.  They're giving you the back story you need to understand what's going on so that everything can unfold from there.  The more complex your story, the more exposition you need.  The more exposition you have, the more ridiculous your story can seem.  I've seen pilots for some very complex shows that were so fantastic they could have been stand-alone movies.  The Veronica Mars pilot comes to mind here.  By the end of that pilot we were set up with two central mysteries - who killed Lily Kane and who raped Veronica - and were familiar with the personalities and interpersonal relationships of every character on the show and none of it even felt like exposition. 

I've also seen pilots I didn't care for turn into shows I loved.  A poorly executed pilot doesn't necessarily mean the show won't be good.  It does mean you've got an uphill battle to fight to win viewers over though because a rough pilot can deter people from tuning in again.  I think Ringer is fighting just that kind of uphill battle. 

The story they're trying to tell is very complex.  Bridget is a recovering addict who witnessed the head of the Wyoming mob (yes, really) commit a heinous murder.  The FBI wants her to testify against him but she fears for her life.  She runs away to see her twin sister Siobhan who's an ice cold bitch married to a wealthy man and living in Manhattan.  Siobhan takes her sister out for a boat ride, waits until Bridget settles in for a cat nap and then fakes her own suicide, thoughtfully leaving her wedding ring behind.  Bridget slips the ring on and steps into Siobhan's "perfect" life only to find out that her sister's in an unhappy marriage, with a step-daughter who hates her, having an affair with her best friend's husband and is 4 weeks someone.  Oh right, and while the crazy-eyed Wyoming hit squad is out to kill Bridget, someone else entirely is trying to kill Siobhan. 

That's a lot of story to tell in the pilot so if my problems were just the heft of the exposition, I'd have easily gotten past it and been prepared to really like the second episode.  But exposition was the least of this show's problems.  The show looks cheap.  The special effects are anything but special as it never looks like Sarah Michelle Gellar is in the same county as another person, let alone talking to someone else when she does a scene where she's supposedly talking to her twin sister.  I know it must be hard to splice two takes of the same actress together to make it look there are two separate people in the scene but it can be done more convincingly than it is here (The Vampire Diaries does it on a fairly regular basis).  The green screen work during the boat scene was the least convincing green screen I've ever seen in my entire life.  There was even a scene during some kind of auction where the camera cuts to a shot over SMG's shoulder and the perspective is so jarring I thought for a moment that I'd accidentally been drinking vodka all day instead of water. 

Plenty of shows look like they are made on a shoestring budget.  The first season and a half of Buffy, the special effects looked like something my high school art teacher had is 2nd period throw together on the theme of "nightmares" while he listened to Pink Floyd records (my high school art teacher always played Pink Floyd on vinyl during class. Public schools were a lot more comfortable hiring stoners in the early '90s).  But the show itself rolled with it.  The writing was top notch and sometimes they even poked a little fun of their own FX shortcomings so the audience could say "yeah, they don't have any money, but they do what they can with what they've got and they make it work for them."  Unfortunately, Ringer seems to be taking itself pretty seriously.  (Man oh MAN, does this show think it's CONSTANT use of mirrors is clever.)  They don't seem to realize that their reach far exceeds their grasp which makes me wonder if they'll be able to pull it together and tell me a good story without it getting lost in its own sense of self seriousness.  

I'll give it another episode to convince me but if it can't win me over on episode two, it won't get a third chance to change my first impression.

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