This Kristoffer Polaha is doing SO bad a job in this series. SUCH a bland performance, and the script gives him nothing worth saying. Let’s not say bad actor – in 2008 he played the thrill-seeking, foppish and immortal son of Ringer costar Jaime Murray in the 8 episodes of Valentine, and between then and now he played the jock father of a teenager in Life Unexpected. Clearly he can do a few things. But let’s say SO bad at acting like a temperamental, charismatic writer. Holy beans. His character simply stares at the camera and looks hurt. It’s obvious to ME that writing is his excuse for not keeping promises and not showing up to things. Most of Henry’s role in this episode is to lie to his wife, and it’s always hard for an actor to avoid looking silly when he plays a character who’s a bad actor or bad liar. But he doesn’t even seem like the right kind of bad liar. He’s temperamental but not fiery or brooding or intense in any other way. He’s like a deluded youngster, referring to being about to finish his book like a teenager refers to being about to visit his girlfriend in Montana. Nobody believes you, Henry! At least produce something we can look at.

Kristoffer Polaha as Danny Valentine

Another problem with this guy. Siobhan and Andrew have been married for five years. Only five years! Why is she having an affair with this guy? He’s whiny. He’s the same age as her husband (Polaha is 40 months younger than Ioan Gruffudd). Is there any advantage he offers over a Ioan Gruffudd character, even the smarmiest Ioan Gruffudd character? Of all the flashbacks we’re about to see, the ones I’m most curious about are the Siobhan-Henry ones. What’s the appeal? And what does he see in her? Is it purely sexual? He’s ten years too old to be misinterpreting a fling as something that would make her leave her hard-won rich husband.

Am I getting this dynamic wrong? Is he actually another rich guy who they all know is pretending to be a writer? He seems to know about investing.

* * *

Let’s address some good things about Ringer.

  1. The music. Songs with conventional structures, conventional emotions, but something unconventional about the sound. Nice to hear the Watson Twins and Laura Veirs.
  2. The “Brave New Bacon” food truck.
  3. The heart of the show is the wild-child stepdaughter subplot. “Heart” not meaning the core, but the emotional part. Bridget wants to save someone from falling because she once needed that kind of saving. And she feels especially noble because by doing this she makes Siobhan seem less heartless and bonds Siobhan’s family. This is one place where the layered identities work. Bridget rolls her eyes when emoting to Juliet, conveying a slightly mischievous “Okay, I’m going for this … this situation is so weird” to reduce the pathos. And I appreciate that we don’t get any glimpses of the Rules of Attraction-style parties Juliet is going off to. The monster in our imagination is scarier than any special effects.
  4. John Paul Karliak, the guy who plays the flamboyant party planner. He is enjoying that role and I dearly hope to see him again. His plaid shirt and paisley tie create the illusion of a bow tie in his collar’s negative space. Here he chats about his best moment in LA.
  5. The show has a budget. The parties look cheap. This is good, because decadence is bad.
  6. The moment at Andrew and Olivia’s Martin-Charles party when Bridget realizes that as Siobhan, she can order people around and be officious and unreasonable, and this can be useful. And so she shoos the FBI guy out.
  7. Bridget tries to use Siobhan’s One International Bank card, and can’t guess the PIN. It’s nice when this happens. Like in Karate Cop when John Travis is trying to guess the code that will stop the matter transporter from self-destructing, and he looks hopeless and presses a few buttons and runs away, and it actually blows up and changes his plans a little. And that’s in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where there are real stakes to not knowing a password, where the person who devised the password is long dead.
  8. The Rope trick of having a trunk/coffin in the middle of a party. I was hoping to see some subtle reminders that it was there, and some tense passages when the ruse might be revealed through simple bad luck. Not so! The box physically draws attention to itself. Two times. Blood drips from it. A phone inside it goes off. This is so unlike the subtlety of Rope that I laughed.

This brings us back to things not to like. There are moments of real suspense. Moments? Isn’t that an bad thing? The show puts us in suspense, whether it’s a bank manager saying “Come with me, please” in a scary law-enforcement way, or Bridget saying “Wait!” before the workmen roll out a carpet she thinks has a corpse in it, or all the “The cocktail party/appointment/lunch. Don’t tell me you forgot the cocktail party/appointment/lunch, Siobhan!” moments. The suspense is resolved immediately, or at least immediately after the commercial break. Is the gradual build of suspense a cinematic thing, too leisurely for episodic entertainment? Then why do so many sitcoms rely on the gradual build of awkwardness?

Hopes for Episode 3: That we get flashbanks conveying some inkling of chemistry between Siobhan and Henry. That Gemma disappears and is replaced by John Paul Karliak as Henry’s longtime companion. That the graying buzz-cut guy who’s been stalking around like Terence Stamp in The Limey finally shoots somebody.