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Haylie Duff Lifetime movies are almost impossible to resist. So when I flopped down on the coach after yoga and saw this:

I knew my Sunday was basically shot.

Looking at the description, I had questions…

It’s a supernatural one? And is that really NOT a Duff?

Calm down, gentle readers. It’s totally a Duff — Comcast is just doing its usual bang up-job and displaying the description from the wrong movie. There’s no lame ghost crap, either. No, this Sunday treasure is classic Lifetime to its core: Haylie Duff, a simple evil husband plot, waste-no-time foreshadowing… it’s all here, people.

We open with a wedding, and we know this because we read it off a black and white title card like the ones on Frasier.

Okay, strange choice but I can accept it. The marrying couple is Haylie Duff and Evil Husbear.

A beard IS pretty unusual for a Lifetime villain. They usually go for the Michael Douglas clean-shaven-MBA-douche look.

There are a couple of notable things about the wedding scene: 1) They find a new way to ruin the pretty-but-ALWAYS-used-in-tacky-weddings Bach Air on a G String. This time we get an all-synthesizer version for no reason. Isn’t real classical music super cheap to use? And 2) The bride/groom wedding dance segues from semi-classy slow dance to weird 80’s rock out with awkward seizure movements.

I chuckled at this because in another life Mr. Max and I lived in a rental facility that did weddings, and this is pretty accurate bad middle aged person dancing. Also that wedding dress is ugly (sorry, Haylie).


Another title card!

Apparently our newlyweds have moved into their dream home. The house is a bad modern House Hunters style house with weird cement crap on the outside and a big double vanity bathroom. Side note: why are ALL people on House Hunters obsessed with double vanities? It’s just a sink, call a plumber you can basically put that crap anywhere. Ahem.

Husbear comes over and says, “Hi I missed you” and gives Haylie a kiss that’s golden-retriever level sloppy. He’s basically drooling on her chin, it’s bad. This is the moment when I knew I would watch this movie in its entirety.


I had to.

Haylie is surprised to learn that there’s a live-in gardener on the property. So am I – way to create a relatable protagonist, Lifetime. Gardener says “Have we met before” with a suspicious look, which is the Chekhov’s Gun of all Lifetime movies.

Now Husbear and Duff are unpacking, and Husbear unpacks his most prized possession… and it’s… it’s…


The craziest painting ever. Mr. Max was half asleep and asked if they had unwrapped a pizza from a box. On the Pizza to Artwork Likert scale, I would pick ‘strongly agree it looks like a pizza.’

Husbear babbles a bunch of arty bullshit about color and meaning – I don’t know, I kind of zoned out here.

Next title card. I should note that we’ve had 3 title cards in the space of about five minutes. This movie is 60% paper.

Finally the real creepiness begins: Haylie Duff wakes up with a nightmare and Husbear puts an oxygen mask up to her face. Huh. That probably won’t be important later.

Another title card!!! Amazing.

Production Note: In the scene where Duff starts work as a substitute teacher, there’s no fade out between when she arrives at school and the next scene with her on the playground at the end of the day. It’s like they quantum leaped in time (using the power of sloppy editing).

There’s a young male teacher with a moustache who insists on giving her a lift home. He’s pushy but he’s probably just a red herring baddie.

Another Title card: TUESDAY (I guess we ran out of card ideas? I have a new appreciation for the Frasier writers.)

Now Haylie’s outside having an overshare with the live-in gardener. She says, “We got married so soon after we met, there’s a lot I’m still learning” Folksy gardener replies back about how he likes plants because “Plants don’t talk back to you.” Charming!

Next we get a flashbacky scene of Haylie taking some pills for a heart condition. Okay, the oxygen thing is starting to make more sense.

DEFINITELY out of title card ideas.

Evil Husbear meets Moustache Teacher and starts acting all jealous and controlling. Husbear’s Goth (why? We are never told) sister starts hanging out at the house too much and giving off incesty vibes. The Moustache teacher gets falsely accused of child molestation. Guys, guys – the gardener can’t find his dog. Shit’s about to get real.


Seriously, why is the sister a goth?

THE PARTY: We haven’t had a title card for like 20 scenes but sure why not.

Husbear and Duff host a party but spend the whole time fighting over the first world problem of who’s in control of the patio renovation. For some reason the housewarming party playlist is all loud club music. Sister is wearing a straight up dominatrix getup. Does someone involved in the production have an S&M fetish that they’re shoehorning into every scene? Please don’t answer that.

Fashion Corner: Duff wears the fancy dress Husbear bought her. It’s supposed to be super sexy but it kinda looks like a bathrobe.

A nice bathrobe…

The plot moves pretty quickly from here. Gardener gets murdered for asking too many questions and Evil Husbear uses the old ‘your mom was bipolar’ trick to gaslight Haylie. After a visit to some unhelpful cops, Duff morphs into a self-investigating Lifetime heroine. There’s a scene where she Googles the logo on her “heart medication” and we’re supposed to be impressed by her craftiness.

As a person with mild anxiety I use this skill all the time to make sure it’s ‘really Tylenol in that bottle’ so I thought of it in the first scene, but okay. Go Duff!

Now she’s hacking into Husbear’s computer. She finds webcam footage that proves that the gardener was killed, and copies it onto a flash drive. Smart. She yanks the flash drive while the file is totally still downloading. Ummm…

Now, the big reveal: Duff visits the address of the family of Evil Husbear’s secret dead wife. Turns out Duff is the spitting image of dead wife! Where the spitting image = an exact picture of Haylie Duff.

Eagle-eyed viewers will remember this turning your new wife into your old wife trope from one of my earliest reviews, of A Face to Die For.

Finally she gets caught snooping around for evidence by Evil Husbear and sister.

It’s two against one, but she gets in a direct punch to the balls before the cops show up. Sister aims a knife at Haylie, but hits Husbear instead. The cops arrest sister and escort Duff away from the crime scene. She looks longingly one last time at the hideous House Hunters house.

Aw man, who’s gonna design the patio now?

Overall Rating: Choice. Best laundry folding and/or drifting in and out of consciousness movie of 2016.

Everyone uses the end of the year as an excuse to come up with a list of useless rankings, and I’m no different. Except instead of analyzing things of actual merit, I’m using my time on earth to categorize the (realistically) dozens of Hallmark and Lifetime movies I’ve watched over the year. While Lifetime’s premieres have been over-hyped and annoying, I’ve still found plenty of solid Canadian-made entertainment on the Hallmark Channel (and non-prime-time Lifetime). So let’s ring in 2016 with a look back at 2015’s top movies made for TV… for ladies.

Chef romance

Back in MY day, Lifetime heroines were either marketing directors or PR executives. Well, blame Iron Chef because marketing is OUT and hospitality is the hot new lady fantasy career. Now it’s all tales of passionate pastry chefs and rebellious restaurateurs, complete with lingering shots of souffles and kitchen montages. For some reason these Chef flicks are usually romances, and the arc is almost always the same: the Chef is a workaholic kitchen magician who can make anything… except love. They either feature a single Chef’s adventures in romance, or a pair of star-crossed food artisans (Chef-on-Chef Romance?).

Case Study: The first movie I ever saw in this genre was Recipe for Love, starring Danielle Panabaker (…?) and Shawn Roberts (who eagle-eyed viewers will remember as Paige’s rapist from Degrassi The Next Generation). I should note that Shawn Roberts bears a striking resemblance to Justin Bruening, who played basically the same character (obnoxious/brilliant/but mostly obnoxious celebrated Chef) in a few episodes of Switched at Birth.

Proof.

Here, our heroine is a young upstart working in a test kitchen. Her boss gives her a special assignment: assist Bad Boy Celebrity Chef in writing his latest cookbook, which is delayed because he’s creative and therefore irritatingly irresponsible. Just like in the nearly identical plot in Switched At Birth, Bad Boy Chef initially clashes with Young Upstart, then romance blooms and they learn and grow together. Fun Fact: Bad Boy Chef’s name is “Dexter Durant” which sounds like a character name a sixth grader would come up with. Also, Mr. Max only ever refers to Shawn Roberts as “Canadian Stifler.”

I actually can’t tell them apart.

1st Related Subgenre: Baking Competition.

An offshoot of Chef Romance, this always features a baking competition as a story device. In Just Desserts, two pastry Chefs reluctantly enter a competition together so Dude Baker can save his failing family business. This checks off most of Hallmark’s possible plot points (Saving the Failing Family Business, Chef Romance, and even Conflict Free Love Triangle since Lady Baker politely dumps her boring rich fiancée for free-spirited Dude Baker). There’s lots of shots of careful sifting and chocolate tempering and flour-y, furrowed brows. I slurp these movies up because I go through British Baking Show withdrawal and this is the next best thing– like when you crave a chocolatey dessert but all you have are baking chips so you just eat those straight out of the bag.

2nd Related Subgenre: Vineyard romance.

Basically a cross between Chef Romance and City Girl Comes Home To the Country (see below). The first one that comes to mind is The Chateau Meroux, in which a woman and her best friend move to the California countryside to run her estranged father’s failing winery. There’s also the Julie Benz one – oh, wait, that doesn’t help because Julie Benz is in 6,500 Hallmark movies. To be more specific, it’s called Uncorked and stars Benz as a high-powered executive who loses her job but finds love with a widower on his picturesque winery. I don’t really remember much about that one other than Julie Benz does this annoying Jessica Rabbit voice throughout.

Conflict Free Love Triangle

This genre is pretty much confined to the Hallmark Channel and sappy Lifetime Christmas movies. It’s like a normal love triangle plot – one girl with two guys trying to win her affection – except no one ever gets mad or fights each other. Guy #1 is almost always rich and successful, but kind of bland. Guy #2 is more rustic/lumberjacky. Eventually guy #1 does something that makes us realize he’s wrong for her (In A Wish Come True, it’s that he doesn’t like puppies, booo!) and Heroine realizes she must follow her heart… right over to that guy in the plaid shirt. Guy #1 is kinda sad but then agrees that Guy #2 is the best choice and they split amicably. This happens in many, many movies – check out my review of A Wish Come True for a classic example.

City Girl Comes Home to the Country

In almost all of these, our heroine is living large in the big city with a fancy job and a handsome but indifferent boyfriend. When her family business/farm needs help, she heads back home to find out what’s really important (and usually reconnect with an old boyfriend). When Sparks Fly follows this formula so perfectly that I’m just going to quote right from Hallmark’s summary:

“Young journalist Amy Peterson (Meghan Markle) is not as happy with her big city life as she’d hoped and it’s starting to show in her work. She’s also not thrilled with her current boyfriend, Phil (Lochlyn Munro), a GQ-handsome businessman who doesn’t quite click with her. When circulation at the “Chicago Post” starts to wane, Amy’s editor sends her back to her hometown to write an article about growing up in her parents’ (Keith MacKechnie and Jacqueline Samuda) fireworks business. With the Fourth of July at hand, this human-interest story will be just what the “Chicago Post” needs.”

Most of these segue right into Conflict Free Love Triangle, with the GQ boyfriend quietly stepping aside. Another choice example is Growing the Big One, a Hallmark movie starring Shannen Doherty that would totally win that game where you come up with movie titles that seem like they’re about poop. In this one, Shannen Doherty is a radio DJ who inherits the family farm and must win a pumpkin growing contest to save it from foreclosure.

How could I NOT include this amazing picture of a huge plastic ball that DEFINITELY looks nothing like a real pumpkin.

The best part of this genre is that you can make up new movies just by mad-libbing the basic plot formula:

A high-powered (professional job title) from (United States City) must return home to (Cutesy made up small town name, a la Stars Hollow) to save the family (old timey business). Will her former flame (cowboy-ish guy’s name) give her a reason to kiss city life goodbye? Tune in at 10AM on Sunday to find out. .

Another awesome example is Christmas in the City, a Lifetime movie where the lead lady takes a high-paying job in a department store’s toy department (?) to save her family’s failing candy shop. The store’s new manager is evil and Christmas-hating, and fires the kindly old man who works as the department store Santa. It turns out that Kindly Old Man is actually the REAL Santa Claus (!!!), which leads me to my next genre….

Santa is Real

It’s disturbing how many Lifetime movies contain a subplot in which Santa Claus is real. I guess it’s a handy deus ex machina for when you don’t know how to end something. The family bookstore is about to be sold? It’s okay, that guy on the park bench with the beard is actually Santa and he winked and now sales are up! Christmas on the Bayou sadly features Ed Asner in the role of Real Santa Claus, and the main arc is resolved when he grants a little boy’s wish for it to snow in the deep south (which might be the dumbest use of a wish ever). We watched this one over Christmas and had to turn it off when the kid actor started singing in a really irritating way so I missed the last scene or two.

Suddenly Supernatural

Along the same lines as ‘Santa is Real’, this Lifetime/Hallmark genre is peppered into lots of their “regular” movies. You’re watching some mild chick flick romance when BOOM someone’s birthday wishes start coming true, or the protagonist finds a magic bottle of wine that turns her into a teenager. Actual speculative fiction understands that it has to flesh out a believable fantasy world — as in, you can’t just add unexpected wizards to a regular courtroom drama and have people “get it.” But on Lifetime or Hallmark (or the Disney Channel) they feel free to throw that crap in with no warning whatsoever.

Related Subgenre: Secret Prince/Princess.

I touched on this in my review of A Royal Christmas. You would think this kind of thing was a one-off, but there’s actually an entirely different Hallmark movie that’s ALSO about imaginary Kings and Princes. In A Princess for Christmas, a woman learns about her secretly royal extended family when she becomes the guardian of her orphaned niece and nephew. Production Note: The royal stuff must sound as fake as possible (“Cordinia”, “Duke of Castlebury Hall”, etc.)

Pathetic Exploitation of Nostalgia

The most disappointing of all the new Lifetime genres, these marketing extravaganzas coldly exploit 30-something nostalgia for trash entertainment. I’ve been sitting out the more recent premieres, but you can find our original reviews of the over-hyped Saved By The Bell Movie here:

The Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story and Why Lifetime Movies Should Not “Premiere”

When the Bell goes Off: Lifetime’s worst yet

Impostor Family

There’s probably some Freudian basis for these, but basically they are what they sound like: someone shows up claiming to be a long-lost daughter/sister/mother and we spend the rest of the movie trying to figure who’s going to be pushing who down the stairs. A Wife’s Nightmare features a long-lost daughter as the fake family member. At the end of these the nuclear family is restored, unless Dad was in on it or mom was insane and the whole thing was a delusional fantasy.

Internet Panic

It’s a classic theme that’s been going strong for over a decade,  but it’s worth another mention here. There are several films in “The (insert noun) S/He (Blank) Online” genre, but The Bride He Bought Online was probably the best of 2015. In it, a group of popular teen girls seduce a computer nerd online in order to extort cash. It was kind of weird that they made him a computer programmer, because Lifetime clearly has no idea what that means:

But in the end, I couldn’t really argue with their theme:

The best bad television occurs between the hours of 11AM and 4PM. Unfortunately, I’m usually otherwise engaged during this un-prime TV time. Thanks to this week’s holiday, I was able to hit The Hallmark Channel mid-day to catch a true modern classic: A Royal Christmas.*

*No, you’re not stroking out — it’s still July. The Hallmark Channel believes that summer is sorely lacking in the winter holiday department, and they’ve remedied that with their summer movie theme: “Christmas in July.” My theory is that the Hallmark Channel is actually a four-year-old who can’t accept that Christmas is really over.

A Royal Christmas stars Lacey Chabert, which shouldn’t come as a surprise because (no exaggeration) she is in all Hallmark Movies. Seriously. There were previews for two OTHER Lacey Chabert Christmas movies during this one. The only person who is in more Hallmark movies is Charisma Carpenter, and I imagine she lives her entire life on the Hallmark lot nibbling on leftovers from that show about the lady who solves crimes and bakes cakes.

Ahem. Back to the plot. Lacey Chabert plays the plucky daughter of a working class tailor who’s got a sassy female friend, a job at her dad’s shop, and a dashing English boyfriend. But hold up! English Boyfriend reveals he’s actually a secret Prince (!) of a made-up country called Cordinia and they both should go there to meet his mom (AKA the queen) in their family castle. Yes, this exposition makes Hannah Montana seem like gritty realism.

The big reveal, really.

So they go to Cordinia. Queen Mom is played by Jane Seymour, and they don’t even pretend for ONE MINUTE that this isn’t the biggest rip-off of Julie Andrews’ performance in The Princess Diaries.

Queen Mom is bitchy and prim and wants her son to marry another royal, not a lowly commoner. Hallmark doesn’t really know how to depict uppity rich people, so they play string quartet music whenever she’s in a scene. I knew I had to write this review when they showed her listening to a classical music arrangement of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” over breakfast. Because that’s what FANCY people do.

Lacey’s lovable Americanism doesn’t immediately win over Queen Mom, but Cordinian Boyfriend thinks she just needs time. Then there’s a wacky scene where Lacey and Cordinian Boyfriend are fooling around (goofy fooling around, not sex fooling around) in a room with a bunch of antique swords and artwork. Lacey throws a sword into a painting and Cordinian Boyfriend thinks this is adorable because he is just a boyfriend-bot with no emotions or opinions.

Then they start spontaneously dancing in a ballroom that looks exactly like a VFW hall banquet facility.

Queen Mom arranges a dinner party with a bunch of young royals. It should be noted that the score alternates between Time Life library classical music and wacky incidental faux-bo straight out of Keeping up with the Kardashians. At the dinner, Lacey drinks out of the finger bowl and puts her foot in her mouth with one of the royals (who happens to be infertile). Everyone gasps but Queen Mom’s all smiles because she’s sneakily trying to get Cordinian Boyfriend back with his childhood love, Bitchy Natasha, who’s some kind of Duchess.

Cordinian Boyfriend Basics
Cordinian Boyfriend has no personality. He only exists to be a perfect boyfriend.
Sample Dialogue:
Boyfriend busts in while Lacey is wearing a bathrobe/mud mask
Lacey: “I look hideous”
Boyfriend: “I like your hideous look” (no sarcasm, he is supportive of everything)

Lacey is invited to accompany Cordinian Boyfriend to the big fancy ball at the castle. Queen Mom gives her an old ugly dress and says since she’s a seamstress she should be able to alter it to fit. So now gaining in-law approval is a Project Runway challenge? Meanwhile, nice butler Victor (Lacey is tight with all the household help) helps her learn how to dance the waltz and act like a lady, Pygmalion style. This exact montage might have happened in Beauty and the Beast. Or maybe it’s just that Lacey Chabert has the voice of a straight-up Disney Princess.

Lacey turns the ugly dress into a big poofy Strawberry Shortcake dress and everyone oohs and aahs.

The ball is a success until Cordinian Boyfriend has to dance with Bitchy Natasha (because it’s a royal tradition and she’s pushy). Lacey runs away to hang with her servant pals but she finds out Queen Mom fired them for being too friendly with Lacey. It’s all Lacey’s fault so she runs back home to the States and breaks things off with Cordinian Boyfriend.

30 seconds pass and Queen Mom realizes she was being a huge bitch. She decides that Cordinian Boyfriend should follow his true love and tells him to run after Lacey. There’s a gooey proposal scene and then we cut to their wedding which appears to be happening at a Medieval Times.

Our four course meal will satisfy even the hungriest of knights!

Then it starts snowing and it’s already Christmas again because I guess it takes a year to plan a big dumb wedding. The end!

Also Queen Mom ends up with the butler.

Overall Rating: Soft and conflict-free, this movie is like watching a slightly less abstract laser light show. Don’t think too hard, just enjoy relaxing while your eyes glaze upon some pretty visuals. (I mistyped that but I like it and I’m leaving it.)

I’m about to say something controversial.

The Hallmark Channel is the new Lifetime.

I know what you’re thinking: The Hallmark Channel? Isn’t that like the Disney Channel for grown-ups? Well kind of but let me explain.

As I hinted in my Unauthorized Saved By The Bell review, I’ve been losing patience with Lifetime’s recent ironic self awareness. Casting Lindsay Lohan, re-making Flowers in the Attic, live-tweeting premieres… it’s a little try-hard. Besides, it’s taking all the fun out of actual, sincere hate watching.

Over on Hallmark, there’s no hype because there’s no one is pretending that these are “real” movies. Hallmark movies are straight-up filler and they know it. They’re as honest and pure as they are entertainingly dumb.

Case in point: A Wish Come True. I tuned into this one 15 minutes late and they hooked me as soon as the hip young protagonist started listening to messages on her answering machine. Answering machine, you say? When is this movie from, 1998? No! It was made this year. I have no idea. Maybe the preview will explain it.

The plot is fairy tale weird: On the night before her 30th birthday, lead girl Lindsay makes a birthday wish that all of her previous birthday wishes will come true.

I hoped this would trap her in an infinite wish loop, but instead she just loses weight and wins a bunch of money in a sweepstakes. Oh, and her eyesight gets better so she doesn’t have to wear her big old nerd glasses anymore . Now she’s hot, Janey Briggs style. No one else seems to think that the fact that her wishes are coming true is maybe a little bit unusual. Yeah! Now she can buy her tacky dream home.

Dialogue corner: When the sweepstakes dude is telling Lindsay about her winnings, he says, “Here are the keys to your brand new luxury car.” Like, not the specific make or color or anything. He just calls it a “luxury car.” It takes a gifted writer to inject awkwardness into a scene this straightforward. It’s like being able to trip yourself with your own foot.

Next there’s a scene where Lindsay bumps into a historically-dressed dude and looks up to say, “Prince Charming?” and he nods and winks. That’s when I knew I was in love with this movie. But wait! The guy is just like one of those Liberty Tax street mascots or something. Haha, fate has a sense of humor or something.

It wouldn’t be a treacly wish fulfillment fantasy unless Lindsay lands a dream job, so she’s promoted to a fancy position at Generic Company That Cares, where they do something admirable related to the environment. On her way to work, she gets into a nasty argument with some judgy stranger about the ethics of driving a Humvee or whatever (her sweepstakes car, which she’s attempting to sell). Cut to the big office team meeting, where she’s about to get introduced to one of their biggest investors and… you guessed it, it’s the judgy stranger.

This segues into flirting because all lady romance movies think arguing with a dude = true wuv. But wait! What about Lindsay’s childhood friend Dave, who’s obviously pining away for her in secret? Oh, him? “Why, we’re practically brother and sister,” she says because this movie has strict orders to stay within established romance movie guidelines.

Now there’s a scene in a bar where Lindsay and her friend meet Dean Cain, who’s playing himself because this is as weird as we can make it. Lindsay realizes it’s a wish because she’s the biggest fan of The New Adventures of Superman, even though that’s not actually a thing. I had forgotten about the whole wish thing by this point of the movie, so I was kind of like, “Huh? Oh, right” during this scene.

Judgy Investor Guy invites Lindsay to a charity ball and she blows off childhood pal Dave to go.

 

Dave gets all mopey and reminds Lindsay that she didn’t used to “need wishes to be happy.” Way to rain on the poor girl’s parade, Dave. Later, Lindsay has a romantic dinner with Judgy Investor Guy and he nitpicks her table manners. How will she ever be able to choose between these two charmers? Then Judgy Investor Guy acts all grossed out by her puppy and we know Dave’s gonna be our Prince Charming. Thou shalt not shun puppies on Hallmark.

Dave, our mopey hero.

A whole bunch of boring stuff happens at work, and Lindsay is working on pitching some solar panel project with Dave as her partner. I guess this is their dream that they’ve been working on together for a long time? I don’t know, I missed that part. Judgy Investor Guy gives her advice on the presentation that amounts to “compromise your values” and she takes it. The proposal is a success but Dave is understandably pissed. Lindsay goes with Judgy Investor Guy but realizes that she should really be with Dave and makes one last wish. Oh, right. The wish stuff again.

Dave plays hard to get, but Lindsay tags along on his rock climbing expedition without any training. That’s enough self-flagellation to be romantic, so he says yes.

It’s a happy ending, but all Hallmark movies are required to end in a saccharine explosion. MORE ROMANCE! The Hallmark viewers shout, so we cut to Lindsay and Dave’s future wedding. NOT CUTE ENOUGH! The Hallmark viewers squeal, so we get a shot of Lindsay’s golden retriever at the wedding. Then Lindsay says something theme-y about the wishes which we had all forgotten about. Oh, right.

I’ve been attempting to write my review of The Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story for the past week. I was feeling a bit stuck until Lena Webb gave me the encouraging nudge I needed.

 

So here goes.

It was bad, people. BAD. And not the engagingly bizarre type of bad that Lifetime does best (idea: Engagingly Bizarre should be the network’s new tag line). No – it was just regular boring bad, like Dance Moms or that Kim whatever show.

Plus for all the talk about it being “Unauthorized,” it was rated TV-PG. Talk about being set up to fail.

 

Cartoon drawn during intense boredom.

Unauthorized is, as Lena noted, basically Screech’s Story: Please Feel Bad for Me. In addition to making simulated Screech WAY cuter than actual Dustin Diamond (Mr. Max and I had to explain to Lena that no, Screech was not “a little bit cute”), they also frame him as a Mr. Nice Guy Who Can’t Catch a Break. I find this confusing. Is playing a dorky role on network television THAT awful? Even if you don’t make the cover of Teen Beat, there’s still fame and money and stuff. Do it for a couple of years and then go to art school or whatever.

(Fun fact: I went to college with Little Pete from Pete and Pete and everyone acted totally starstruck around him even though he played a chubby little ginger kid. You would’ve thought the guy was Tom Cruise or something.)

Lifetime knew how to market this movie to snarky mid-30s nostalgia hounds. In the weeks leading up to the premiere, my twitter feed was littered with excited/sarcastic anticipatory tweets. The promo certainly seemed to hold promise:

Unlike Lena, I watched pretty much every awful thing on TV as a kid and Saved By The Bell was no exception. However, I ranked it only slightly above Eureeka’s Castle in terms of watchability (i.e., barely). SBTB was just so boring and tame – a soap opera about teenagers written for babies. Why suffer through that when you could sneak out of bed and watch 90210? That shit was at least salacious.

I will note that Mr. Max and I once watched the SBTB post-college TV movie, and that was gloriously awful. But the actual show? Nope.

I’m starting to see a pattern emerge with Lifetime’s “star”-studded premieres. They whip the ironic Lifetime bloggers into a frenzy with something that sounds too good to be true (Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor! Christina Ricci as Lizzie Borden!) and then crap out some cheap A&E docudrama and everyone has to try and pretend to be amused because we bought all this alcohol and Chinese food already.

My thoughts on the matter solidified after watching a classic daytime Lifetime movie last Sunday morning. It was A Sister’s Nightmare (Review coming soon!), and it was beautiful in its minimalism. No premiere, no fanfare, no stars – just a cheesy synthesizer score, dumb cops, a washed up 90s actress, and a few weird plot holes. And it was a billion times more entertaining than ANY of the recent crap they’ve been hyping lately.

Cue strings for my closing paragraph.This is my credo: Real Lifetime movies don’t “premiere”, they just… appear. Usually in the afternoon. They hum in the background while you’re folding laundry or surfing the Internet. You don’t even intend to watch them, but suddenly it’s 2 hours later and you can’t get up and take a shower because you have to know whether or not the husband is really evil. Real Lifetime movies don’t have celebrity stars — they have “that guy from that thing,” or the girl who was in a straight to video sequel to Poison Ivy. They don’t need production values or pop music scores or celebrities or social media marketing. They’re lazy and sloppy and confusing and unprofessional and that’s okay because we love them just the way they are.

So stop screwing with the formula.

The title says it all. I had been avoiding this one on Amazon Instant for a while now, going for more splashy titles like “The Pregnancy Project.” But after watching and being wowed by a crazy-murderer/artist-dumping-brown-paint-over-his-naked-body-in-a-ritualistic-manner scene in “The Eleventh Victim,” an equally drab-sounding offering, I hoped another gem might be in store. I gamble, I win.

An officer and a murderer AND a panty sniffer?!

I knew I was in for a treat from the beginning, as the credits roll over a military uniform being straightened out and fussed with and we see CANADA emblazoned across the upper arm. I was like “holy shit this is going to be about Mounties” and went to make myself an Old-Fashioned. When I got back, a man was being introduced to an audience of military people as the new Commander of the air base. Then I was like “holy shit Canada has an Air Force?” First time for everything, I suppose. Anyway, the man is Russ Williams and he seems like a bit of a hardass, saying that he doesn’t want to move away from his neighborhood to be closer to the base. He says that he “could run the base through his phone.” Yes sir.

“Snug Harbor Road” is where Russ is so reluctant to leave, and it is made obvious that he’s a well-liked guy as he jogs around the neighborhood.  I got a bit of a House of Cards vibe from Mr. and Mrs. Williams– no kids, no nonsense. Well, maybe some panty-sniffing nonsense!

<Law and Order sound>

Detective Dobson is definitely no nonsense and she doesn’t seem too happy about getting a partner. Detectives never seem to want partners, but they always come in so handy– duh. Anyway, I honestly can’t blame Dobson for not wanting this guy because just looking at him makes me angry. He looks like a bloated version of Brenda’s crazy brother Billy in Six Feet Under and he’s trying to pull off some “distant” look.

I… know things about… criiimees….

Chief Novak (the most detectiviest last name ever) tells Dobson that Gallagher is some kind of criminal profiling master and that they’re going to go investigate… a break-in. Womp womp. But Gallagher’s genius isn’t wasted because they discover that some pre-adolescent panties have gone missing! “Let’s get forensics in here,” says Dobson. Back at the office, Dobson and Gallagher eat detective food and rap about the case. “Stealing underwear is a way for him to get close to his victims.” LOL. I’m getting drunk and this is getting good.

You know what I mean when I say “detective food”

Russ gets warmed up with a couple more panty raids, the first of which involves stealing a woman’s dildo collection and leaving a note mentioning “you’re big dildos.” The second starts off legitimately creepy with a cute air base colleague at home getting into the shower. Russ takes off all his clothes and makes like he’s going to quietly sneak into the shower behind her (eek city) but lo! He spies her underthings and decides to rub them on his chest instead. Then he takes a sip from a nearby wine glass and rubs her panties on the wine glass. His good times are interrupted by the shower being turned off, so he grabs the panties and runs.

Back at headquarters, Dobson and Gallagher meet with Chief Novak to tell her they found a male pube on some underwear he left behind. Novak, as all good police chiefs do, needs more evidence. She also demands a full profile by noon, which leads directly to hilariously bad detective dialogue like:

“He does his homework. He’s methodical.”

“It’s almost like he WANTS the women to discover him.”

“Wearing the underwear represents subjugation of his victims from afar.”

“He’s evolving. He’s going to move on to stealing pants.”

As minds race and midnight oil is burned, Russ enters the bedroom of a new mother who has passed out after finally getting her baby to sleep. He does that “almost touch” thing and then, to our surprise, actually grabs her. He ties her up and blindfolds her, and pretends to be part of a robber posse, keeping her quiet until his guys get the stealing done. In the meantime, he says he’s going to take some pictures of her. The camera sound effects here are those of a camera that looks like this:

Noisy shutter, popping flashbulbs… He must also have an antique camera fetish, no?

Nope. That’s just the way tiny digital cameras sound in Canada. Russ is mostly pretty nice to her and even gets her aspirin for a headache she complains of through her sobs of terror. He takes a few crime selfies and tells her to count to 200 and peaces out. She counts all the way, and only then does her baby wake up and start screaming. Whew!

Russ is on a roll now but the detectives are closing in fast. And by “closing in fast” I mean getting sidetracked by the last victim’s misidentification of Russ’s “sketchy” (not at all) neighbor named Charlie in a lineup who, during questioning, says “do you think I look like the kind of guy who would do that?”  They’re like “yeah, you’re right” and let him go. Good cop, great cop?

My quickly-shortening attention span was refocused by a clever cut to a weird charity auction at the air base where they put good old Commander Russ in a fake jail cell and bid on who’s going to bail him out (?). He raises $3000 (??). “Great for moral,” says some other army guy to Russ on his way out of the men’s bathroom. Yup, says Russ… and then takes off his clothes to reveal that he is wearing women’s underwear!!!

“I’d fuck me”

It was definitely time for Old-Fashioned #2, and (thankfully) by the time I got back Russ had actually killed a couple women, and Dobson and Gallagher were coming to the conclusion that “he’s highly organized, disciplined” and therefore “could be someone from the air base!” They get some roads closed off for random stops for tire tread match identification purposes, possibly the only smart detective thing they do, and get evidence of Russ’s guilty tires. But how could it be Commander Williams? He’s an officer!

AND A MURDERER! Back in his garage, he rolls up a dead woman in a rug and dumps her somewhere. When he gets back, his high degree of organization and discipline manifests in the form of a tiny little dustbuster that he uses to get rid of the forensic evidence. If I know anything about dustbusters, this won’t work, but maybe Canadian dustbusters are more powerful.

Dobson is burning some more midnight oil, and Gallagher praises her diligence (he has done basically nothing useful at all) but warns her that she’s “gotta be careful with cases like this; they really get inside you, they eat you up. So put up a firewall (?).” And oh, by the way, Commander Williams’ tires matched. Dobson checks their profile against Russ’s info and she is ON it. Like a good TV detective, she shows up at his house Clarice Starling style, alone, no backup, no warrant. Russ is inside, Jame Gumbing out, wearing a victim’s bra and panties, watching his video recordings and taking more crime selfies. Dobson peers into his garage, stares at his tires, leaves, goes back to the office and looks at a photograph of his tires they got at the roadblock. Amazing, quality policework right there. You make that face, Dobson.

Chief Novak says that they’d better be able to back up their accusation because if they’re wrong about Commander Williams they are all going to be writing parking tickets for the rest of their lives. Classic police chief threat, classic police chief face.

Russ agrees to answer some questions down at the station, and before heading into the interrogation room he removes his shoes by the door (??). Dobson doesn’t get it either, but she takes the opportunity to grab a shoe and bring it down to forensics to have it matched with tracks that were left on a victim’s floor. It matches and BOOM, it’s all over for Russ. They find his panty stash and he’s off to the clink. One of his army colleagues is so flustered he pukes in the bathroom. The final scene is a weird ceremonial burning of Commander Russ Williams’s uniform. Probably a Canadian thing.

And then the Internet tells you that Russ is the Office Space guy and you go to sleep!

Last night I was diddling around on our newest media box interface, Amazon FIRE TV or something, and stumbled across several– no, many– LMN movies! I saw Liz and Dick, Betrayal (with Meredith Baxter!), and a couple other familiar titles, but I focused in on Magic Beyond Words because:

HARRY LOVES DEATH; HE SAYS BRING IT ON!

Oh boy..

I was so psyched that I pressed play right away, but got distracted in the kitchen cracking open a second bottle of wine. I missed some stuff, but was able to figure out some “important” “plot” material, namely that as a child Joanne Rowling had a lot of wizard fantasies, did poorly in school and was picked on. And she looked like Harry Potter.

FUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCKKKKKKK

Hermione she wasn’t.

I settled in as rebellious teenage Rowling flips out at her parents when she doesn’t get in Oxford. “But I want to be a writer!” she wails in her dreadful British accent. Mr. Rowling is an ass and tells her that being a writer sucks and she should make some money instead. Mrs. Rowling is all about supporting her dear Jo and says she should follow her dreams, do what makes her happy, etc. She ends up going to stinky Exeter.

At this point I was half-watching, maybe even quarter-watching so it gets a bit hazy, but what follows are my sporadic notes– with visual media!

– – –

Alright I’m just jumping in here–

Rowling snoozes on the train, has a dream about her childhood woodland wizard games and meets HARRPY POTTER, scar and all, wakes up and says “Harry Potter! Your name is Harry Potter!” just based on his face.

I AM A DESTROYER OF WOOOORRRLLLDS

Dream Potter

They are throwing random Harry Potter things into her “real life”  (an owl, weird train snacks)

Rowling’s mom, her champion, DIES after having a shaky-hands-and-wheelchair disease. She sees her little 6 year old stories she wrote that her mom had saved and has a big old breakdown.

….aaaand then finds a job ad for English teachers in Portugal and goes for it, moving into a house of hot, light-hearted chicks. She is loving it. She is still not writing, just partying down and blaming her mom’s death on her slacker lifestyle. They go clubbing.

Pulsing dance music thumps as JK flounces into the club with her Sex in the City entourage. Was JK Rowling actually a slut? They are making up fake identities for the purposes of a one night stand! JK is approached by a sexy Portuguese man who knows ENGLISH and LITERATURE. He’s like a steroid version of Tony from West Side Story. She’s totes going to one-night bone him, but you can tell it’s going to turn into so much more. They’re up in her apartment already; she’s in the other room, and he starts snoopily reading her MANUSCRIPT. She flips out and kicks him out but he saves his poontime by saying “I think I’m falling in love…. with a great writer” in a tortured spanish accent and she basically jumps straight onto his hog.

J.K. Rowling is a *babe*

Family trauma with dad remarrying, meh, and then her Portuguese Romeo is caught smooching some hussy in a club..! She is walking away SO mad. He proposes. Literally next shot is a wedding. Her wedding is IN Portuguese. And now he’s going to war?

Back as an ESL teacher, she is doodling crappy wizards while her students take a test. I guess he wasn’t going to war, I don’t know why he was wearing camo– his job was taken by someone else and he’s all full of machismo. He won’t let a woman support him! She reveals that she’s pregnant! He walks out! Not looking good.

Her Sex in the City housemates are telling her to LEAVE him now, before the baby gets old. He comes home drunk and freaking out, flinging her around by her hair and being generally violent, wakes up the baby, throws her out of the house. Policia altercation. She goes in and gets all her harry potter notes and flees with the baby. SINGLE MOM.

She’s on the DOLE. Dole lady implies that she should have stayed with the abusive husband instead of going on the dole (69 pounds a week). She sees her mother’s ghost face in a mirror who tells her to be strong and follow her heart. She gives her sob story to the real estate lady who was not keen on having a doled-up tenant but she said aaawww why not! Now they have a gorgeous, warm apartment with a nursery! On 69 pounds a week! I’d also point out that she has not been writing Harry Potter this whole time. She’s got an awful lot of stupid names to make up!

Things have hit rock bottom and she is showing her friend Harry Potter notes when she’s asked “what makes you happy?” Her friend is just amazed by Harry Potter.  “Jo, it’s magical!” Single mom writing montage. She writes in a hip coffee shop. Dole much? She looks so not poor. She sees hipsters playing chess… Inspiration! She goes without food to get a typewriter from a pawn shop.

She bought baby food and a typewriter

The candles are all floating as she writes. She sees the Gringotts bank goblin at the dole office. Her magical world is everywhere. She is sending the book to agencies. Everything is working out and now her only hardship is to think of a middle initial– she decides on K from her mom’s maiden name, I think. Secretary says “it’s got a ring to it– JK Rowling.” NOT.

She’s teaching English again and her unruly class is putty in her hands when she makes them all dress up like witches. “Don’t think of a test as a bad thing, think of it as something that makes you stronger!” Mary Poppins city. OMG SHE GETS A PUBLISHER– The publisher who published “The English Patient,” someone says, reverently.  She finally gets a hard copy of her splendid book. She smells it.

She’s doing a reading. Everyone assumes she’s going to be a man because of her mysterious nom de plume. It’s over and they just layer some written facts over JK reading to a rapt audience, but in like a Waldenbooks or something.

– – –

And that was that. Overall, it’s fun to imagine the real JK Rowling being SO PISSED upon seeing this. She got Lifetimed reaaal good. This movie was so Lifetimey that although I’d deliberately set out to watch it, I found myself wandering around the house missing chunks of it.

Also, this movie made me wish that Brad Neely narrated the entire thing.