By Diana Metzger
What’s on television constantly, featuring frequent rape/murder combos, and wonderful cameos of C-list celebrities? If you answered any of the Law & Order canon, then you’re close, but so very, very wrong. I’m here to say that that syndicated juggernaut gets bested on the regular in so many ways by my personal warm blanket of child abuse and prostitution: the Lifetime movie.
Yes, many viewers who enjoy a good snark on Twitter watched Lifetime’s Flowers in the Attic rendition, and will probably tune in for the prequel and sequel films the network has up their sleeve, but their growing stable of films is so much more than literary incest!
Now I’m not going to touch on their original programing, my loyalties lie with their films only. Your mother and I aren’t the only ones watching either. If you have a decent cable package, there’s the main network and there’s the Lifetime Movie Network—almost always showing original films 24/7. They might slip in that Gweneth Paltrow/Jessica Lange lost-gem Hush, which I’d recommend as well. That means you can guarantee that any time day or night, there is a Lifetime movie playing. How reassuring and comforting is that? And critics say original film making is dead!
Their films get split into two categories: ripped from the headlines/true crime tales or original stories concocted from mother’s worst fears. Both have their own exceptional value. The true crime tales get the most heat these days: bigger stars, primetime airing, and more advertising. These are the more elusive ones, like fireflies, you must catch them at the right time or you’ll miss your chance until next summer. Lifetime is kind of genius that way; they only play the Amanda Knox movie starring Hayden Panettiere a couple times and then they pull it out of rotation until that rare Sunday afternoon when it’s sunny and you should be outside, but something compels you to watch the whole thing because it’s so rarely on television.
The original films tend to have less flashy stars, but their premises are so fantastic that they draw you in. They also tend to be centered on something a suburban PTA is currently wringing its hands about: prostitution in schools, syphilis outbreaks among teenage friends, or a daughter dating a much older felon. The mother also tends to be the hero in all these stories, or the lack of a mother being the reason things went awry in the first place.
Here are some of my personal favorites from their true crime and original film oeuvre:
True Crime Faves
The Craigslist Killer Really, it has a Billy Baldwin cameo as a hardened detective. How can you go wrong?
Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy Everyone who read my defense of Nashville knows that Hayden is such a dark horse scene stealer and she’s no exception in this film.
All American Girl: The Mary Kay Letourneau Story Penelope Ann Miller doing a Lifetime film before it was cool. This one has layers, too. And it’s on a lot in the middle of a weekday when you should have better things to do.
Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret I can’t lie: this is the most gruesome Lifetime film I’ve seen. Maybe a little too realistic for my taste, but the story leading up to the crime is so devious and twisty that it’s a fun watch until the gore.
Walking the Halls Popular teenage girls enlist less cool girls to become prostitutes. Allowances aren’t what they used to be, kids.
She’s Too Young This is truly my all-time favorite of any Lifetime film. Loose teenage girls looking to be popular start spreading syphilis around the school. It stars Marcia Gay Harden as a concerned mother, because of course it does.
The Boy She Met Online It’s exactly like it sounds, except the boy is a man who’s also a convict.
Fifteen and Pregnant This was the OG teen mom story before it become “cool” because Lifetime is always ahead of the parent fear trends. It stars a young Kirsten Dunst, so really you never know what stars you’ll discover on LMN.
No One Would Tell This is a real gem staring a young Fred Savage (totally breaking away from his Wonder Years persona) and Candace Cameron as a couple plagued by Savage’s abusive behavior. What would Danny Tanner say?
There are so many more to choose from. Waste a few precious hours of your life watching Lifetime with me. You don’t even have to have cable because many are available online. If any of you know anyone related to Lifetime movies please let me know; while some women dream of corporate domination, I dream of writing about mother’s worst nightmares for Lifetime.