It takes an admirable amount of talent and hard work to pull off a show like “Ringer.” The premise alone could make heads spin. The pressure on the lead actress could cause a meltdown or just lead to plain old bad acting. And it doesn’t help that the show got pushed from CBS to the CW, home of gossipy girls and licentious vampires.

Ringer

Pilot
Tuesdays at 9 p.m.
The CW


Even with all that working against it, “Ringer” emerges as a well-executed and intriguing new drama. Sarah Michelle Gellar (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) — despite years away from television and nearly half a dozen male co-stars — holds her own and carries the show. This is no mean feat considering she’s playing about five characters.

For starters, she plays Bridget Kelly, former stripper and recovering addict. Through flashbacks, we learn that Bridget went to visit her twin sister Siobhan (also Gellar) and that the latter mysteriously disappeared. Bridget assumes the role of her sister, assuming that the death was a tragic suicide, and goes about her daily life … only to learn that Siobhan has her own horrific secrets, including an extramarital affair and a masked man trying to murder her in her own loft.

Breath.

Also Siobhan is alive and seemingly at her leisure in Paris. So there’s that.

It’s clearly an excruciatingly complicated premise. Somewhere in this melee of plot twists we meet Siobhan’s husband and stepdaughter and Bridget’s rehab sponsor and the detective who needs her testimony. It should be confusing. It should be too much.

But it’s not.

By some feat of televisual execution that is nothing short of magic, “Ringer” ’s pilot is smooth and easy to follow. The plot points and character introductions come at appropriate intervals, thereby avoiding an overwhelming bout of information. Gellar’s acting fluctuates subtly between the two sisters and the past and present. Impersonating your twin sister is easy if you’re Tia or Tamera, but Siobhan and Bridget have been estranged for six years. Gellar adds that extra layer of distinction between her characters. It can be unnerving, as a scene begins, to not know who or when it centers on, but any doubts are cleared momentarily and the action unfolds without further uncertainty.

Nestor Carbonell (“Lost”) and Ioan Gruffudd (“Fantastic Four”) as the detective and Siobhan’s husband, respectively, provide stoic constants to the emotional upheaval constantly assaulting Gellar’s characters. Bridget’s sponsor (Mike Colter, “Salt”) and Siobhan’s lover (Kristoffer Polaha, TV’s “Mad Men”) have yet to figuratively state their purpose. Luckily, they don’t complicate the pilot too much, but it would have been a lot cleaner without two more characters’ emotional baggage.

If the cast and crew continue to execute future episodes with the same care and pacing, “Ringer” could carve out its own niche in the CW’s otherwise monotonous, guilty-pleasure programming. One episode in, the show has established a small but solid cast of characters and a complex but sensibly executed story. And that is nothing to be guilty about.

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