Some thoughts on Lifetime’s Unauthorized Beverly Hills, 90210 Story

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One of the perks of being on crutches – and believe me, there aren’t many – is that I have a lot of downtime to watch television. I was out of work for two and a half days adjusting to life with crutches, which gave me plenty of time to clear out the old DVR and catch up on some shows that I’ve really been wanting to watch (I finished Mr. Robot in a day). I’m back to work now, but as do anything on my crutches is exhausting, especially since I have to conquer stairs to leave my apartment building, I’ve been mostly homebound. That meant I had plenty of time this weekend to watch Lifetime’s latest terrible unauthorized movie on the 90s series Beverly Hills, 90210 as well as the specials that followed: Tori Spelling: Celebrity Lie Detector and Beyond the Headlines: Beverly Hills, 90210. I’m not saying that I’m particularly proud of any of this, but as a kid that grew up watching the show, I figured it was my duty to my generation to tune in. Besides, I didn’t have a heck of a lot else going on.

Now, having watched many of these Lifetime movies, I had no delusions of grandeur. These movies are always pretty terrible, but that is half the fun of them. Having watched the unauthorized Saved by the Bell and Full House movies, I had a pretty good idea what I was in for: a bunch of actors that aren’t very good and that look only vaguely like the people that they are depicting, rehashing info that any fan of the show already knows, “scandalous” revelations that aren’t at all scandalous and a very limited music budget. The movies also tend to either dwell on one particular era of the show for most of the movie or do a very cursory examination of the show’s run. If you are looking for in-depth stories and nuance, these Lifetime originals are not for you.

The Unauthorized 90210 Story focused primarily on the first season of the show with the main emphasis on this disruptive influence that was one Shannen Doherty. This is not a shocking revelation; even in the early era of the Internet, I think everyone who watched 90210 knew that Doherty was a problem behind the scenes. That wasn’t a very well-kept secret. So it was disappointing that the 90210 movie decided to spend so much time focusing on this without giving any real interesting insight. Mostly she just seemed to be late a lot and was difficult to work with; there were no bombshell revelations about some truly awful stuff that she did. The fact that the entire cast voted to have her fired was the closest that the movie came to any interesting new information, and that might not even be that new. By the time they wrote the character of Brenda off 90210, I was already beginning to lose interest. So it’s quite possible that was widely reported at the time and I just missed it. The movie actually ended once Shannen Doherty left the cast, which means that six seasons of the show were completely ignored. I’m sure something interesting happened during that time, but since Lifetime choose to spend so much time on the origins of the show, there just wasn’t any additional time for it. The biggest revelation from the Lifetime movie was that apparently Jason Priestley and Brad Pitt were roommates at one point.

As usual, the movie doesn’t get a lot of things exactly right. I am by no means a huge 90210 fan – I think I quit watching regularly once they went to college – but even I know that they didn’t get the dresses right for the episode where Brenda and Dylan sleep together for the first time at a dance. That should have been something pretty easy to fact check, but just didn’t happen. More egregious in my mind are some of the things that they skipped over that occurred during the first four seasons of the show; how you can do a movie about 90210 and not give any attention to the “Donna Martin Graduates!” episode is beyond me. That’s just simply irresponsible. There was also no mention of the episode where David’s friend accidentally shoots and kills himself, which I remember being something of a big deal at the time.

The big surprise of The Unauthorized 90210 Story was that they actually managed to hire an actress that looked strikingly like Jennie Garth. The rest of the cast bared only a minimal resemblance to the actors that they were portraying, but the woman playing Jennie Garth looked so much like her that at certain angles I had to remind myself that it wasn’t actually her. I think that’s the closest that any of these Lifetime Unauthorized movies have come to finding actor doppelgangers. The actress who play Shannen Doherty was close and certainly had the attitude down; the rest were kind of forgettable. Much like the early years of 90210, Brian Austin Green, Gabrielle Carteris, Tori Spelling and Ian Ziering were mostly marginalized in the Lifetime movie. I don’t think that they let the actor who played Brian Austin Green do much of anything but dance and the actress playing Carteris had only a handful of lines. There was a scene involving the entire cast where the Tori Spelling character was inexplicably missing. Perhaps the worst casting choice was Dan Castellaneta to play Aaron Spelling; Castellaneta may be great as the voice of Homer Simpson, but that doesn’t translate well into playing a real-life person. In his hands, Aaron Spelling seemed more like a cartoon character than an actual person. Total misfire in my opinion.

I learned far more from the Tori Spelling: Celebrity Lie Detector special than I did from the 90210 movie, which is to say that I learned one kind of big thing: Tori Spelling slept with Jason Priestley. Tori Spelling was hooked up to a lie detector and asked a series of questions and it was then revealed if her answers were truthful or not. She didn’t lie very often – the funniest example is when they asked her if she thought The Unauthorized 90210 Story was a good movie and she said yes, which was revealed to be a lie – and a lot of the questions weren’t all that exciting either if you knew anything about Spelling. The host was super annoying – I don’t think she knows what “groundbreaking” or “shocking” actually mean – but it was at least trying to unearth some interesting stories. Sure, some of the stories that Tori told were not verified by the lie detector so who knows if she was telling the truth, but at least she was actually on the show. And honestly, I don’t know that there is much that I really needed to know about 90210.

That being said, I just can’t quit these ridiculous movies so I’ll be tuning in this Saturday for The Unauthorized Melrose Place Story, which is a show that I didn’t even watch. So while my investment is pretty low, I’ll probably “learn” more from this movie. I sincerely hope that Lifetime continues to pump out these godawful movies; they are just so comically bad that I can’t look away. They are the epitome of a guilty pleasure, especially if watched live with Twitter. At this point I think I’ve become numb to how terrible these films are and I have such lowered expectations that they are just pure mind candy.

If you missed The Unauthorized Beverly Hills, 90210 Story and still want to see it, it will air again on Lifetime on Saturday before the Melrose Place movie (and presumably is on demand).

Some thoughts on A Deadly Adoption

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Since I was actually at home on a Saturday for the first time in months, I decided to take it easy this weekend. I needed a break from my usually overscheduled life and kicking back and staying close to home seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. That meant that I was in front of my TV at 8 pm Saturday night when Lifetime debuted their Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig movie, A Deadly Adoption. There was no way that I was missing that. I grabbed some ice cream and curled up on the couch, curious as to what I was about to witness.

I had been looking forward to the debut of A Deadly Adoption partially because I had absolutely no idea what to expect from it. Would it be a parody of Lifetime movies, full of over the top acting and akin to a sketch that you’d see on Saturday Night Live? Would they actually do just a traditional Lifetime movie? Were the viewers about to get punked and discover that there was no full length movie, just two hours of random nonsense? Honestly, any and all options seemed plausible. The idea that Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig had teamed up with Lifetime to do anything seemed patently absurd, and when that’s your starting point anything really is possible. I was kind of rooting for theory #3 – this was all an elaborate prank – as I was sure that would make the most number of people angry and it’s always fun to watch people lose their minds of silly stuff that no one should really care about. Plus I have absolutely no idea the number of people who watch Lifetime movies like I do – as a goof –compared to those who take these movies seriously. I think the membership of the latter group is probably larger than I think, which in and of itself is concerning.

It turns out that Ferrell and Wiig opted to play it straight; A Deadly Adoption was on the surface a pretty straightforward Lifetime movie. Ferrell and Wiig didn’t vamp it up or make it overtly campy; their presence was the only thing that really made A Deadly Adoption out of the ordinary. If the leads had been Tori Spelling and Dean MCDermott, nothing would have appeared remotely amiss. This may have disappointed people who were tuning in expecting something over the top or laugh out loud funny. That’s not what this movie was. But for people who are familiar with this genre of movie, A Deadly Adoption was pretty funny in a deadpan sort of way. It played up all the unintentional comedy that these movies possess with their ridiculous plot twists and silly dialogue. At its worst, A Deadly Adoption was an average Lifetime movie; at its best it was a subtle parody of the genre that just let the tropes of the genre do the work for it. A Deadly Adoption was a silly, melodramatic film which was exactly the point. If you were playing “Lifetime movie bingo” while watching, you would have a full playing card by the movie’s end. The checked all the boxes of the needed characteristics for a true Lifetime movie. There was just enough cheese and self-awareness to make it a super fun viewing experience.

The plot of A Deadly Adoption is ripe Lifetime movie canon – Robert and Sarah Benson (Ferrell and Wiig) lose their second child after an accident, which puts strain on their marriage. They decide to adopt a child; enter Bridget (90210’s Jessica Lowndes), a beautiful young pregnant woman looking to give up her child to a loving home. Bridget is currently living in a shelter, so the Bensons invite her to move in with them and their daughter Sully. But is Bridget seems to have designs on making herself a more permanent fixture in the Benson home. To say any more would be to ruin some of the fun, but as is required for Lifetime movies, there is secret identities, infidelity, kidnapping, murder and other assorted mayhem. A Deadly Adoption is a bit like a mix of The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, Fatal Attraction and What Lies Beneath all rolled into one.

I don’t know if Lifetime as a network has become self-aware or not, but whoever wrote this movie knew exactly what they were doing. A Deadly Adoption is more of an homage to terrible Lifetime movies than a mocking of them and on that level the movie really works. The hardest adjustment is watching Ferrell and Wiig play it straight down the middle; you are so conditioned to expect them to do something wacky and big that it takes a bit to get used to them playing these roles somewhat seriously. There is some initial humor at seeing these two actors in the movie, but that’s the most overt grab for laughs. Sure the plot for A Deadly Adoption is ridiculous and the constant revelations and plot twists are ludicrous, but that’s exactly the point. Honestly, this wasn’t even the craziest Lifetime movie that I’ve ever seen.

I kept an eye on Twitter while I was watching A Deadly Adoption and the reactions to the movie ran the gambit. Those who were expecting a spoof like Scary Movie were terribly disappointed by the fact that this wasn’t a straight comedy. Those unfamiliar with Lifetime movies just thought that it was a terrible movie. But for the select few who had no expectations going in and have a background in Lifetime movie nonsense, it was unintentionally comedy gold. When you recognize that A Deadly Adoption was more of a conscious tribute to the Lifetime movie genre than a takedown of it, it’s kind of brilliant. It certainly didn’t work from lack of commitment from anyone involved.

I have absolutely no idea what Lifetime was trying to say by airing A Deadly Adoption – maybe they are finally admitting that they are in on the joke – or why exactly Ferrell and Wiig decided to get involved. I’m glad that they did, however. I may not have laughed out loud during the movie, but there were several chuckles of recognition and nods of approval on the execution of the required elements. A Deadly Adoption was just a weird little distraction that fell into my lap and while I don’t think it’s for everyone, it was certainly something of a love letter for those of us who watch Lifetime movies ironically. Everyone was in on the joke, which was there was no joke. It was like one long performance piece; Andy Kaufman would be proud.

If you missed A Deadly Adoption, Lifetime is surely re-running it ad nausea. Check your local listings.

Friday Fun – The Cast of Lifetime’s Full House Movie Revealed

One of my guilty pleasures is watching Lifetime movies; it is one of the many questionable habits that I picked up while I was in college. More often than not, Sundays in my sorority house we’d all hang out in the living room watching Lifetime movies all day and nursing out hangovers with Woody’s subs. It was a nice, mindless way to spend an afternoon and the unintentional comedy of these movies was off the charts. We kept the practice up after we left college as well; I can think of plenty of times that the day after a party we would indulge in an all-day Lifetime movie marathon. We even dragged the boyfriends and guy friends into the ritual as well. The absolute best was when the description of the cable box did not match the actual movie that was showing; the only way to make a Lifetime movie even more unintentionally bad is when you think it is a completely different movie. We waited forever for a killer to show up in a movie that actually didn’t have a killer. Good times.

I don’t watch Lifetime movies as much as we did back in the day – because who has that kind of free time anymore? – but I’m still guilty of occasionally watching them on a slow night. My taste in Lifetime movies has become more discerning over time; I am now only primarily interested in their fictionalized depictions of true crime, celebrity stories and Flowers in the Attic adaptations. Though I still stand by my assertion that She Woke Up Pregnant and Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? are among the best/worst that Lifetime movies have to offer, my interest in the generic “woman in peril” movies that they typical churn out has significantly waned over time. But give me Rob Lowe as murderer Drew Peterson or Robe Lowe as murderee Ben Novak and I’m happy (though Robe Lowe needs a new agent). I am not positive why I enjoy these movies so much. Maybe I feel like I’m kind of sort of learning something when the movies are based on true stories or actual events. Mostly I think I just like things that are so bad that they are amusing; watching a Lifetime movie live with Twitter is a very satisfying experience.

While these movies occasionally land some big names – Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor was a special kind of awful – more often than not they rely on relatively unknown actors to portray people that the viewer is pretty familiar with. They do this with varying degrees of success; the cast of the Whitney Houston movie were actually fairly close to the famous people they were playing, but that’s generally the exception to the rule. The cast of the Saved By The Bell movie were particularly dreadful when considering their resemblance to the actual cast of Saved By The Bell and I thought that was the low water mark by which all future Lifetime movies would be judged.

Until yesterday, when they revealed the cast photo for the unauthorized Full House movie:

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Have mercy indeed.

Yowza. I barely know where to begin. That’s just all kinds of awful. It’s like they aren’t even trying. I know that there aren’t a ton of guys out there that look like John Stamos – which is too bad for all of us, really – but there is just something really off about that entire picture. It has that “uncanny valley” feel to it, like this is the copy of a copy of a copy. I am actually delighted, since this means the likelihood of this movie being an absolute trainwreck has significantly increased; if this is the effort that they are putting into casting and hair and make-up, I can’t wait to see how bad the writing is. I think Dave Coulier has the right attitude about this:

I’m definitely watching the hell out of this movie when it airs. If I could already set my DVR for it I would have.

The unauthorized Full House movie will air on Lifetime Saturday August 22nd.