Revenge, the Show I Hoped Ringer Would Be

Fall is a stressful time of year. In addition to getting my kids back to school, the TV networks roll out their new shows. Deciding which TV shows to checkout/dump can be overwhelming. I seem to be the kiss of death for a new show. The list of shows that I embraced, only to watch them get abruptly cancelled in their 1st season is long (Misfits of Science, Brimstone, American Gothic, My So-Called Life, Smith, Drive, …. ) So I tread softly with skepticism and try to research ahead of time with Entertainment Weekly and other sources. With the advent of TV on DVD, on demand cable viewing and other means, guessing wrong in the fall and trying to play catch up is not a big deal.

As a die-hard Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Joss Whedon fan, I felt obligated to watch Sarah Michelle Gellar’s new show Ringer.

In truth, I think SMG is a good actor and I had missed her. Ringer is not a bad show, but I can’t gush about it. SMG has a dual role where she plays estranged twin sisters (Bridget and Siobhan). Mini Spoiler Alert -Siobhan has faked her death unbeknownst to Bridget by disappearing from a boat that the two are on while Bridget conveniently napped. Bridget then decides to adopt her sister’s identity because she is on the run from the mob and the authorities. The premise is a stretch but I let it go, to see how the mystery would unfold.

The show certainly has its flaws. We don’t see much of Siobhan’s character and we don’t understand her motivation, as she is a limited role. Her scenes involve mysterious phone calls to some unknown person and we learn that she is seriously ticked that her sister has foiled her faked demise. Most of the show deals with Bridget trying to assimilate into her sister’s posh identity complete with strained marriage and CLICHE ALERT troubled teen-aged step daughter. Of course no one suspects. Neither her husband, nor lover, nor even her best friend deems it to be odd that her mannerisms have changed and her memory for recent events required refreshing. And everything is oh so serious, there is very little joy or levity and certainly no humour. But it is not all bad.

In fact there are many intriguing aspects. The main plot revolves around the mob and authorities trying to find Bridget and the mysterious disappearance of Siobhan’s best friend and the mystery of why Siobhan faked her death. The plot intricacies are revealed gradually and the viewer often knows more than the characters do. This makes for an interesting mystery that is engaging. The acting is very good. It is fun watching SMG on TV regularly again. Her supporting cast is gorgeous and talented, Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower/Reed of the Fantastic 4) as her husband, Nestor Carbonell (Richard from Lost) as the pursuing agent. The budding/rekindling romance between Bridget (pretending to be Siobhan) and her sister’s husband would be sweet if it weren’t such a creepy violation of trust.

Unfortunately, so far, the supporting characters serve the main plot with very little else going on in their lives, from what the viewer can see. This results in a limited world with some clichéd characters (petulant teen step-daughter) that takes itself far too seriously. A recently introduced subplot involving her scheming with her teacher has some promise. There is no humour at all and the dialogue is nothing special.  The scenery is mostly posh apartments, no big whoop. I am currently about 4 episodes behind and not particularly anxious to catch up, as I have other priorities.

Actually, the real reason I have put Ringer on the back burner is that I have binged on a Revenge marathon. My friend Derek in the U.K. has been encouraging me to watch this show. Because we share many common pop culture interests, I couldn’t resist.  Additionally, it is seems to be this fall’s breakout hit according to EW. Derek was instrumental in helping me get caught up, with some additional help from ON DEMAND cable; I must thank him again!

Revenge is a retelling of the tale of the Count of Monte Cristo and boy is it addictive fun. Emily VanCamp plays Emily Thorne, a rich young woman who has returned (with a new name) to the Hamptons summer home of her childhood, to exact revenge on the folks that destroyed her father and her childhood.  The people are gorgeous, the acting is superb, the supporting characters are fleshed out and the twisty plot keeps me guessing. The complexities of the conspiracies and lies are not too difficult to follow but are revealed in a way that makes you say, “whoa, clever”. This show is well paced and leaves me wanting more. It has its share of clichés (clash between teen-aged daughter and mother, nasty matriarch) but these are more easily forgiven here.

The acting really deseves special mention. Kudos to Emily VanCamp, she really pulls this role off. Emily Thorne is one cool customer and with a lesser actor could come off as wooden. Madeleine Stowe as Victoria Grayson, Queen Bee of the Hamptons smells a rat and as Emily’s nemesis her performance is outstanding. She is a calculating, long-suffering, socialite with a conscience that she keeps buried deep, but not too deep. Despite being the villain (one of many), she manages to evoke sympathy from the viewer.

The writing is stellar. The layered world with interconnecting storylines is a difficult task to pulll off. When Emily becomes engaged to Victoria’s son Daniel as part of her scheme, I suspect that she truly cares for him and may even love him, if she were capable of such an emotion. Emily herself is so single minded in her persuit that she loses sight of how it affects those that care about her. Consequently, she is less sympathetic at times. Framing her in such a negative light is a daring move by the writers, but it works.  It works because the supporting characters who are not treacherous; they seem to genuinely care for Emily and consequently suffer in the wake of her vengence. Meanwhile, I have begun to really care about them and hope they will pull through.

There are multiple romances and some unrequited feelings to add to the fun. The dialogue is good and there are some elements of humour and levity. The summer beach setting is lovely with beauty and charm. This show has it all.

Both shows have similar themes, gorgeous young women with secret identities. Their lives leave them entangled in conspiracies with double crossing villains. Ringer is good but Revenge is sooo much better. Both are well acted. But where Ringer can drag at times as the plot unfolds; Revenge moves at a steady clip with no scene wasted. Revenge creates a richly layered world full of interesting supporting characters whose stories we care about. Ringer creates a world that is simpler, where everyone serves to advance Bridget’s and to a lesser degree Siobhan’s agenda and little else. This makes it less interesting and less compelling viewing.

I’ll be watching both for now. Revenge will be appointment viewing; Ringer will be batched and watched when my other shows are airing repeats. I have been hounding my husband to start watching Revenge and loaded the first 3 episodes for him to watch while he worked out this am. I was delighted to receive this text from him while I was at work today “Watched 2.5 episodes of revenge while doing huge workout this am. Damn you:)”

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: 2011- 2012 TV Season Wrap Up – part 1 « What is Ann Watching?

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