Once More, With Feeling (Fall 2011 TV): Ringer

The same week Buffy the Vampire Slayer launched its ninth season (albeit in comic book form), Sarah Michelle Geller returned to series television nearly a decade after her title role in that program ended.

First episode sampling of Ringer, Geller’s new drama on the CW, let the network tout its “best Tuesday in two years.”  Obviously audiences were curious, though retention over subsequent weeks will define success.

Ultimately that ratings performance will rest in large part on whether viewers are drawn to Sarah Michelle Geller herself in a new setting or want Geller only as part of a Joss Whedon-created narrative.

Ringer has staked out its self-proclaimed identity as a “noir” style crime drama, with multiple duplicitous characters – starting with Geller’s own lead role(s) of estranged identical twins. Siobhan Martin, rich and connected. Bridget Kelly, a stripper/witness-to-a-murder who fled on the eve of her court testimony, reentering her sister’s life to hide out.

One “fatal” small craft boat ride late, Bridget assumed the alluring safety of Siobhan’s identity after concluding Siobhan committed suicide while the two of them were alone at sea. Only Siobhan’s not really dead and Bridget is anything but safe.

The story-telling chronology is deliberately scrambled, with the first episode starting and ending at the same place. Still, it’s comparatively easy to follow for fans of convoluted programs such as Lost, which boasted its share of viewers who were also fans of Buffy.

But Lost-savvy fans are demanding and accustomed to speculating on scenarios that are multiple-steps removed from what’s on screen. Scripts for Ringer will have to deal with those expectations and the inevitable bumpy spots in plot. After all, even classic noir offerings have their share of head-scratching “huh?” moments. So, at times, did Joss Whedon.

Yet there’s no doubt Whedon’s legacy continues to stir ardent fans. In 2007, four years after Buffy the Vampire Slayer wrapped on television, Whedon embraced and occasionally scripted an authorized comic book adaptation that picked up with “Season Eight.” Forty issues over four years. (Time passes more slowly in the comic book world.)

To mark the beginning of “Season Nine,” dozens of fans in Chicago joined in a premiere party at the G-Mart comic book store. Chat. Chips. Comics. An impressive array of trivia. The almost-obligatory sing-along to the score for the musical Buffy episode “Once More, With Feeling.”

Any new show, including Ringer, could only dream that, a decade later, it would still draw such a following, with fans vying to answer fast-flying trivia such as naming the last line inscribed on Buffy’s tombstone. No internet. No cell phones. (For the less ardent, here’s the answer.)

For Siobhan/Bridget/Sarah, that pop culture quest has just begun.

© 2011 Walter J. Podrazik

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