Sarah Michelle Gellar returns to TV Tuesday night, seven years after Buffy slew her last vampire. She plays not one, but two, lead roles in a splendidly silly series called Ringer, premiering at 9 p.m. on the little CW. The network has three other new series, but Ringer, a cleverly convoluted suspense tale about identical twins, is the big one.
Not that it's going to be all that big, stuck on a descendant of the network where a large audience never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, even though critics jumped up and down about it for six years. They adored it so much they gave it the Television Critics Association's second-ever Heritage Award for cultural or social impact, even though they still haven't gotten around to All in the Family or Hill Street Blues or The Cosby Show.
College professors adore it, too. When former Inquirer TV critic David Bianculli, who is now one of them, asked Gellar what she thought about Buffy being the subject of more academic books and papers than any other TV show in history, all she could say at first was, "Wow."
But Ringer is no Buffy, so that's enough of that. It is a cleverly constructed take on the old concept of the evil twin, a soap opera staple that dates back more than a thousand years through movies, books, and poetry.
Gellar plays Bridget Kelly, drug addict and prostitute. Gellar plays Siobhan Martin, New York society dame with a gorgeous contemporary white weekend house in the Hamptons. Who do you think is the evil one?
Six months sober, Bridget's trying to turn her life around, but she fears there won't be much of it to turn if she testifies against the dastardly chieftain of crime on, of all weird places, the Wind River Indian Reservation. This guy makes up for being small-time (there are only about 7,500 Shoshone and Arapaho on the whole Wyoming reservation) by being mean and ugly. He killed his own brother, we are told by some lawman as we gaze on the guy's grizzled countenance.
So Bridget klonks her police protector on the noggin and makes her getaway, also giving the slip to FBI guy Nestor Carbonell and his amazing eyelashes, and fleeing to the not-so-welcoming arms of her sister Siobhan in East Hampton.
Siobhan is not exactly proud of her low-life sister, telling her that husband Andrew "doesn't exactly know about you."
"About my visiting?" Bridget asks.
"About your existing," Siobhan replies.
When Siobhan, conveniently, appears to commit suicide by jumping from a boat into one of the phoniest-looking stand-ins for the Atlantic Ocean I've seen in a quite a while, Bridget takes her place.
Enough complications - including the husband - arise to fill the Atlantic, but you won't find out about them here, and their straightening-out promises to be simple fun, which is more than you can say for a lot of what's on TV these days.
And more than you can say about the CW's three other new shows.
"Oh, I hate new shows," says a background voice in the online preview for H8R, demonstrating once again that the folks at the CW do have a sense of humor.
Mario Lopez (how many times does he get down on his knees to give thanks for the glut of reality shows?) finds average citizens who hate various "stars" and then introduces them to the subjects of their unaffection. Snooki and Kim Kardashian get ever more face time in the premiere Wednesday at 8 p.m. Kat Von D, Eva Longoria, and (this one could be interesting) Steroid Barry Bonds are said to be on deck.
The Secret Circle (Thursday at 8) continues the network's fascination with beautiful youngsters with special qualities. This time, they're witches.
Poor orphan Cassie winds up not in Virginia (that's where the CW vampires are) or the Upper East Side of New York (with the fashionable substance abusers of Gossip Girl), but in Chance Harbor, Wash., just down the dark, deserted road from Forks, where the movie vampires and werewolves of Twilight live.
She may be the final link in the chain that will give the kid witches in town power over their parents, and isn't that a fine fantasy for a network that aims so consistently at teens?
The CW's final new show premieres Sept. 26 at 9 p.m. Hart of Dixie stars The O.C.'s Rachel Bilson as a top-drawer New York med school graduate, with a specialty in surgery, who winds up as proprietor of a general medical practice in a sleepy Alabama town.
There are no twins, reality stars, or vampires, er, witches, but you're not alone in thinking that's the most preposterous concept of all. Surprisingly, cast and crew succeed in making the sugary sweet illogic palatable, if not a gourmet delight.
9 p.m. Tuesday on CW57
8 p.m. Wednesday on CW57
The Secret Circle
8 p.m. Thursday on CW57
Hart of Dixie
9 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26, on CW57