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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.

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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.

Unless you’re one of our (poor, unfortunate) Twitter followers, you probably missed our epic live-tweeting of the Lifetime 2-night premiere of Bonnie & Clyde. (Translation: Lena came to my house with adult beverages and we ordered “party” pizza. Then we sat on my couch with phones/laptops and retweeted each other all night).

This is not a stock photo.

Aside from a few flashes of bizarrely graphic violence, Bonnie & Clyde was pretty forgettable. (It was actually forgettable even while we were watching it. Every few minutes someone would say, “Wait, what did I miss? Whose funeral is this? How did they get out of jail?” and then we’d poll the room and realize no one could remember what the hell was happening. It’s like they filmed it in amnesia-vision.)

We made up for an unmemorable movie with some memorable tweets. A few highlights:

Messing with the official Lifetime Twitter account:

Analyzing the plot:

Retweeting the like-minded:

Key observations:

Summarizing the plot (and bringing back “peen”):

Bringing others up to speed:

Expressing concerns:

Closing reflections:

 

Yesterday was the premiere of Kristin’s Christmas Past, the latest in Lifetime’s winter-long series of schmaltzy holiday films.

This “event” (named “It’s a Wonderful Lifetime” — GROAN) trades the usual tales of murdering babysitters and revenging mistresses for non-stop Christmas-themed slurm. The quality is what you might expect for a series that “premieres” a new “movie” every Saturday for two months. (Yes, all of those quotes are necessary.)

What the hell am I going to watch from now until New Year’s?

I started the viewing session with two classic pairings: a giant bottle of BBC Steel Rail and Twitter. The beer was an immediate success, but the tweeting didn’t go as well. It turns out that even the hardest-core LMN bloggers can’t stomach Lifetime’s holiday treacle.

The only people using the lengthy hashtag “#KristinsChristmasPast were me and the corporate Lifetime Twitter account. That’s like trying to have a stimulating conversation with a Teddy Ruxpin doll.

I stuck it out anyway and was SORT of rewarded in that it was oddly watchable in spite of being not that good. It reminded me of getting sucked into an episode of Devious Maids.

The opening exposition/montage introduces us to protagonist Kristin who, despite being nearly 35, is still living an empty, unfulfilling life. I should clarify that on Lifetime an “unfulfilling life” means having a successful career in New York City, friendships, and a bangin’ wardrobe. What a horrific tragedy that merits redemptive time travel!

It’s a terrible life.

After complaining that she’ll be spending Christmas alone with her cat, Kristin takes a swig from a magical bottle of champagne and wakes up next to her teenaged self way back in 1996.

Kristin proves her identity to Teenage Kristin and they come up with a cover story for the rest of the family. I clearly watch too much sci-fi because I was sure Future Kristin wouldn’t want to pollute the space-time continuum or whatever by meeting herself and revealing a bunch of stuff about the future. I guess magical holiday booze works differently than a regular time machine.

Style Corner: I have no clue what the stylists/costume designers were thinking. Teenage Kristin has Beetlejuice-era Winona Ryder hair (passé by 1996) and wears modern-looking jeans and a T-shirt. Where are the chunky pixie cuts, chokers, doc martens, and tiny backpacks? The flannel shirts? The plastic tattoo bracelets? The bra strap headbands? Making the setting look like the mid-nineties — the era of dumb but recognizable trends — shoulda been a piece of cake. They do get one good nineties joke in, though. A character says he’ll see if someone is on AOL chat and Shiri Appleby totally nails the “Wait, WTF?” and then, “Oh right, people really did that back then” reaction shot. That’s right – I’m admitting to laughing at a joke in a Lifetime holiday movie. In my defense, BBC bottles are pretty big.

Because all teenagers want a time-traveling control freak in their lives, Future Kristin gets right on critiquing her younger self’s fashion sense and taste in guys. On top of the “To Meddle” list is Teenage Kristin’s decision to go to NYU to be with her cheater boyfriend.

You can smell the cheat.

Future Kristin blames this single decision for setting her on the rocky path to eternal unhappiness (i.e, good health, a cat, and a NYC apartment). Of course, Teenage Kristin fights all of Future Kristin’s well-meaning advice and stubbornly does what she wants.

Even though I can tell the audience is supposed to be all, “Haha, teenagers are the worst,” I don’t think Teenage Kristin is that annoying of a character. I actually found the parents (played by Judd Nelson and Juliet from Lost) to be much worse, namely because of the following:

  • Mom has permanent resting bitchface
  • Mom tells insecure Teenage Kristin she doesn’t think she’ll be able to cut it at her dream career. Supportive!
  • Dad and Mom threaten to pull college funding unless Kristin goes to the school they want, and then they actually do it.

The movie ends with Kristin accepting that she can’t change the past (ooh, a message). She downs another swig of the magical champagne and resolves to fix her life in the present. She starts up a quickie romance with her male besty (who was in love with her all along) and reconciles with her (only slightly abusive) parents just in time for Christmas.

As the credits rolled, I conferred with Mr. Max on the conclusion.

Me: “I’m confused about the ending. I thought she was disappointed with her life. Now it’s great?” Mr. Max: “She’s settling. It’s heartwarming.”

Awww.