I am not privy to the series of events that must occur for a Made for TV Movie to go into production but I must assume that some guy just walks into a director’s office, “Alright, I’ve got a mediocre idea for a low-budget movie starring a former television “star,” and/or some B-list talent. The main character, will deal with something devastating, tragic, dramatic, life-threatening or absurd in a fashion that no rational human being ever would. There will be secrets and lies, tears, an obvious moral lesson, humorous outpouring of emotion and if we’re lucky, a cult following.”
After said director greenlights this incredible idea, I imagine the two men walk over to a spinning wheel, not unlike the one on The Price is Right, but in place of monetary amounts are words like: kidnapping, rape, eating disorder, alcoholic, dumpster baby, domestic abuse, drug addict, AIDS, bankruptcy, divorce, big successful urban lawyer returns to humble rural roots, teen pregnancy, mental disability, sordid affair, loss of family ranch, Scott Peterson. . .
And whatever the wheel lands on, I thank my lucky stars that networks like Lifetime, Hallmark, Oxygen and to a lesser extent CBS, are willing to purchase these less-than-stellar cinematic gems, because they make my life worth living. From five to one, here they are, my FAVORITE so-bad-they’re-great MFTVMs of all time:
5. No One Would Tell (1996)
What do you do when not one, but TWO child actors are out of work? You stick them in a campy “based on a true story” MFTVM about a possessive and physically/emotionally abusive boyfriend. Fred Savage stars as the abusive boyfriend (he doesn’t want to be typecast, come on) and who is his victim you ask? None other than Candace Cameron (pre-Bure). As you might imagine, Fred is one of the most popular boys in school, he’s into sports and whatnot, and if I remember correctly, he wears a letterman’s jacket at all times, a sure sign that things are about to go terribly wrong. He’s got a long history of alcoholism and abuse in his family and he and Candace share the pain of fatherly abandonment. When she steps out of line, he slaps her around, sometimes in front of people, other times not. When she dresses “sexy” for him one day in school, her berates her and insists she dress more appropriately. At some juncture they break up (I think it had something to do with the hypocrisy of Candace being angry that her mother was in one bad relationship after another, but that’s irrelevant). The important thing is, that Fred just wants to talk it out. Why he brings ERIC BALFOUR along for the ride, I’m not sure, but he drives out by the lake, walks away from the truck and oh, what, yep, MURDERS HER, wraps the body up, throws it in a boat, rows out into the water and dumps it, where authorities find it several days later. Bravo Fred and Candace, BRA-VO! (>>FF to 6:25 for a real highlight).
4. Riding the Bus with My Sister (2005)
Five words: Rosie O’Donnell plays retarded person. I am so tempted to leave it at that, but I can’t. Seriously? Seriously? Rosie O’Donnell? You could have cast ANYONE ELSE in this role, and I wouldn’t feel compelled to mock it so relentlessly. [I should mention now that I in no way intend to ridicule the plight of the mentally challenged, but I know as well as those who know me well, that if there’s a special spot in hell for people who make fun of special people, I’ll probably end up there.] What the hell is this movie? What was director Anjelica Huston thinking? The moment Rosie enters the picture, it’s over for me. I don’t care how heartwarming a story this is or how much Andie MacDowell has to learn from her feeble-minded sister, because I’m too distracted by the comical stereotypes at play here. She’s retarded you say? Well, let’s give her a bad perm, queer socks, a shit-eating grin, a droll pattern of speech, an affinity for anything junkfood and a fucking kitten shirt. Is this a CBS Sunday night tearjerker? Or a Jack Black skit? Try to contain yourself, there’s room in hell for you too. . .
3. Dangerous Child (2001)
What could be better than Delta Burke in a Lifetime movie? How about Delta Burke getting the shit kicked out of her by her own maniacal teenage son in a Lifetime movie? Dangerous Child is like, the perfect example of producers picking up on a somber social trend. What? You say there was a report in the newspaper that said teens are increasingly beating up their own mothers? Oprah commented on this phenomenon? Have they coined a term for this? Yes? Parental abuse? START PRODUCTION NOW! You might know the teen-lead from his amazing work in the Made for TV Disney Movie realm (The Luck of the Irish, Smart House) or you might not.
2. For the Love of Nancy (1994)
This masterpiece holds an extra special place in my heart for a number of reasons, primarily because it is (apart from that atrocious multiple stabbing picture that starred Nancy McKeon) the first Made for TV Movie that I ever committed to memory, partially because it was so haunting, but also because it was the first time I ever asked myself, “Who the hell writes this shit?” Also, it stars Tracey Gold, essentially as herself, because she, like Nancy, also battled an eating disorder, no doubt from the plethora of insults she had to endure from one Kirk Cameron as her more attractive, more popular and less plump/nerdy older brother on Growing Pains. Now, while Judi remembers the touching scene in the courtroom in which Nancy attempts to maintain her own power of attorney, or whatever its called when you try not to get forced into a treatment program by way of your father having you deemed unfit to make your own decisions in a court of law, I recall her never ending workout sessions and her constant need to stand in front of the mirror to inspect her ribs. I think I never had an eating disorder for the sheer fact that this movie made me laugh so hard that I never wanted to have any kind of condition that would force me to actually identify with this character or her situation. Also, two things, (A) NICE sweats and (B) why do people on TV always run with their hair down, isn’t that uncomfortable? Now I must discredit all of your actions. Carry on.
1. Terror in the Family (1996)
This movie is absolutely absurd. I would love it based on title alone, but it promises, and I might add delivers, so much more. Let’s start with the cast. What could be better than two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank playing an alcohol and drug abusing teenager who dates a rebel from the wrong side of the tracks and is given to bouts of runaway between domestic squabbles? How about JOANNA KERNS playing the role of her alky mom? Yep, that’ll do it. And as if that wasn’t more than plenty to guffaw about, let’s throw in an emotionally unavailable father and a kid brother who sneaks nips off of his own personal bottle of vodka just to get through the day. Best of all, never was an actual reason for the TERROR established. If I remember correctly, there was no catalyst for the extreme increase in intensity in the situation at home. It was like one day the teen daughter (Swank) felt a little angsty and the next day she was wielding a kitchen knife and threatening her family until the 5-0 busted in. Someone get this kid a Valium and a psychological evaluation already: your mom’s a drunk your dad’s an asshole, you act out by abusing substances and making poor relationship choices, case closed.