At some point in the past 31 years, the US cable station Lifetime went from being the place to watch old Unsolved Mysteries re-runs to the home of trashy original movies the internet mocks. These Lifetime Original Movies, so similar in plot that Family Guy joked you could call all of them Men are Terrible and Will Hurt You Because This is Lifetime, are primarily targeted to women, and often feature veteran TV actresses like Heather Locklear and Valerie Bertinelli. As of late, they’ve branched out to biopics for female celebrities who died young (e.g., Brittany Murphy) and unauthorized dramas delving behind the scenes of 90s TV shows (first Saved by the Bell, next up Full House and 90210). So, why the heck did Lifetime just premiere a new Original Movie, A Deadly Adoption, starring Will Ferrel and Kristen Wiig?
Not even Lifetime completely knows the answer to that. When asked how A Deadly Adoption came about, A&E’s (which owns Lifetime) senior VP of original movies Tanya Lopez told EW, “I don’t know if we’ll ever know whether it was a bet from a group of friends or [Ferrell] really wanted to do it…. We weren’t clear if it was going to be authentic, if it really was going to be this murder story…. It’s not a comedy. And it’s well-done.”
Define “well-done” because A Deadly Adoption is an honest-to-goodness Lifetime Original Movie. As the AVClub previously observed, “How do you even judge a Lifetime Original Movie? It is a genre entirely of its own, often characterized by terrible casting, overblown acting, and hilariously bad writing.” In truth, last year’s Unauthorized Saved By the Bell Story was actually my first time watching a Lifetime movie. I had been under the impression they were intentionally bad, like a non-science fiction version of the SyFy TV movies. I had no idea they actually took themselves seriously, but I had hoped that A Deadly Adoption would be the rare case of Lifetime knowingly making fun of itself. And then I saw the trailer:
Oh, crap. This isn’t Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig mocking Lifetime movies; this is a normal Lifetime movie that just happens to star Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig, with any humor mostly coming from their intentionally bad acting. As the network’s VP of original movies, Arturo Interian, told EW, “It’s not the Scary Movie parody of a Lifetime movie. [Ferrell] wanted to legitimately do a Lifetime sexual thriller…. The initial plan was to put on the air with zero fanfare. Just sneak it on. You were going to see promos that were kind of oblique, it’s A Deadly Adoption. A thriller promo. You’re not sure who’s in it. It was interesting that the story leaked and that’s what threw us. We thought we had it under wraps.”
He’s referring to the weird period where billboards revealed that Ferrell and Wiig were making a Lifetime movie only for them to say they’d changed their mind because they had wanted it to be a secret.
Were the billboards all just a joke? Or were they serious? The Hollywood Reporter said that the movie had already been filmed, produced by Ferrell’s Gary Sanchez Productions and based on a script from The Spoils of Babylon‘s Andrew Steele, an IFC mini-series similarly skewering its source material by playing it straight and starring Ferrell and Wiig. Why a Lifetime movie? “Ferrell, as it turns out, is a huge fan of the Lifetime movies and always has wanted to make one himself.”
Now that it’s finally here we know that A Deadly Adoption plays out like a long-form version of an oddball SNL sketch where the entire joke is simply how serious everyone is taking everything. As THR observed in their review, “In the opening scene of A Deadly Adoption, seemingly happy couple Robert and Sarah Benson (Ferrell and Wiig) are mingling with friends outside their picturesque lakeside home, overlit so as to suggest some gauzy Eden. Soon enough, though, paradise is lost when Sarah (pregnant for the second time) takes a hilariously protracted tumble off a rickety dock. Robert saves her, but their unborn baby dies. Cue opening credits, during which the ‘Deadly’ in the title morphs from white to blood-red lettering.”
It’s not exactly unfunny seeing Ferrell and Wiig deadpan their way through a standard Lifetime plot, but it’s a bit much for an 85 minute movie minus commercials. “The stiltedness of the early scenes is amusing, as we come to know Robert and Sarah’s backgrounds — he’s a bestselling financial guru, she’s the purveyor of a successful 100-percent organic food stand — and learn of their mortal fear, Robert’s especially, of their insulin-requiring daughter Sully (Alyvia Alyn Lind) falling into a diabetic coma. (There is perhaps no finer line reading in Lifetime movie history than Ferrell’s admonishment, ‘You know the dangers of diabetic ketoacidosis!’)”
Once Bridgette (Jessica Lowndes) arrives as the down-and-out pregnant woman giving up her baby to the Bensons, things get increasingly absurd, yet the one-joke premise of the entire affair, which is essentially “Lifetime movies are so bad, right?”, wears thin fast. The odd curiosity of seeing Ferrell and Wigg in a Lifetime Movie eventually turns into an act of wondering, “Why am I watching a Lifetime Movie?” This is a network whose purpose for being is summed up in the following quote from Arturo Interian, “I do remember, one movie it was freezing cold out, this poor actor is washing his car, it’s, like, 30 degrees, he’s got a six-pack. And it’s like, ‘I don’t care if he gets frostbite! Get his shirt off! He’s washing that car with his shirt off!’” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, really. That’s just Lifetime’s thing. But in the case of A Deadly Adoption, as THR concluded, “If the ultimate point here is that Lifetime movies are by their nature superfluous garbage, well, that’s a pretty weak-tea basis for this project’s existence.“
Yet I appreciate that Ferrell and Wiig decided to do something as strange as make a Lifetime movie in their spare time because they thought it would be fun. If they make another one, might I suggest picking up an idea which was previously too crazy for Lifetime, as Interian told EW:
Someone came in and pitched Speed with a jogger, where they attached a bomb to this Olympic runner’s chest, and the female bomb-disposal person had to run alongside this guy because he couldn’t go below seven miles an hour or something. And it was in San Francisco: “Oh my God, what if he slows down on a hill?” That was one that I was like, “Really?
Let’s brainstorm some possible titles: “Fatal Jog,” “Running For Love” (assuming the jogger and the female bomb-disposal person fall in love), “The Unauthorized Speed Story.” Your turn. Take over in the comments section.