Typically proud of my tastes for better or worst, I tend to scoff at the phrase “guilty pleasure.” But then there’s the Lifetime made-for-TV movie, an area of entertainment I cringe to confess I enjoy. If my husband comes home in the middle of one, I face an awkward choice to either switch the channel to something less embarrassing, or admit that I do want to know what becomes of the girls who dared to play The Choking Game. (Spoilers: surprisingly neither suffocates! Though one does get brain damage. #YOLO)
Last weekend my Lifetime-loving shame was squashed. For untold years the Lifetime channel has been a joke. But with A Deadly Adoption, the channel changed the punch line. And now we’ll never look at the 25-year-old network the same way again.
Is this a joke?
When it was first announced Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig would be making a Lifetime movie, the news was met with suspicion. It’s a joke, right? Yes, both have done drama (Everything Must Go, Stranger Than Fiction, and Hateship Loveship, The Skeleton Twins respectively). But Lifetime movies are the lowest rung of drama, reserved for wannabe stars and has-beens seeking a comeback. It had to be a mistake. Then billboards surfaced, along with a curious teaser:
A Deadly Adoption was definitely happening. But was it a comedy? Even as the TV movie aired—following a lurid countdown that ran all day long on the network—Twitter was abuzz with debate.
It's hard to see Will Ferrel in a serious role #deadlyadoption— Angela Nicole Davis (@exoticvirgo_27) June 14, 2015
Reading #ADeadlyAdoption tweets is almost as entertaining as the movie: "I thought this was a comedy." "This is terrible."— Ruth (@BabyRuthCT) June 21, 2015
#DeadlyAdoption was so good. If you didn't get the satire, I can't help you and nobody else can either.— HaleyMancini (@HaleyMancini) June 21, 2015
In fact, the debate is still raging. EW has a Lifetime exec swearing it’s “not a comedy.” While The Guardian is siding with us, that this is parody pure and perfect down to the three (three!) insert shots of the doomed bannister on that damned dock!
Lifetime made its Sharknado.
Saturday night Twitter lit up with responses to A Deadly Adoption. And it seems safe to assume this is the most attention Lifetime has ever gotten on social media. Lifetime even got in on the fun, suggesting they are in on the joke with GIFs of the movie’s most bonkers moments.
A Broader Audience Achieved.
For a long-time Lifetime watcher like myself, it was easy to pick out the fellow fans from newbies to the network by their tweets. Those shocked at A Deadly Adoption’s seedy twists and turns clearly aren’t familiar with the tropes of Lifetime morality tales. A chipper and sexy stranger never shows up on your door by chance. And that plucky best friend has no hope of making it to the final credits. But aside from a smug (albeit stupid) sense of satisfaction I felt watching such tweets spool forth, there was also the realization that Lifetime had lured in a whole new audience to their network.
Part of the draw was undoubtedly the combo of such big comedy stars as Ferrell and Wiig. Part of it was the wonder over WTF A Deadly Adoption would be, good or bad, sincere or spoof. All feeding into a major TV event that had even those who weren’t watching, talking about it.
Now the network has scored all kinds of headlines, celebrating A Deadly Adoption, counting out its craziest moments, and commending its inventive twist on the standard Lifetime movie. But Deadly Adoption didn’t just make Lifetime newly accessible and briefly essential. It also made it’s other movies retrospectively enjoyable.
Go ahead and laugh.
For those unfamiliar with the awkward expositional dialogue, crude shifts in conversation, wooden performances and overt insert shots of Lifetime movies, A Deadly Adoption may have seemed just plain ol’ bad. But the script by Andrew Steele (Spoils of Babylon) and direction of Rachel Goldenberg knew when to press those points just a bit past the norm to make them ridiculous in such a subtle way that retroactively fans new and old can watch just about any Lifetime movie and find a source of comedy, intended or not. Thus, Lifetime has realigned our view of their brand—whether they care to admit it or not. Sure, it’s drama is so predictable, scandanlous and schmaltzy that it’s bad, but laughably bad.
Both clever performers who revel in pushing the boundaries of comedy, Ferrell and Wiig have given us permission to snark and snigger at Lifetime’s entire filmography, thanks to their slight tweaks on tone and overzealous happy ending dance sequence. As Sharknado proved for Syfy: it doesn’t matter that the content is good, just that it’s entertaining. And Deadly Adoption is at least entertaining, and arguably its own brand of brilliant.
Kristy Puchko watches Lifetime. And that’s okay.