Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cheesy Made for TV Movies. Alternate Title: Our Favorite 90s Teen Stars Sell Out


Cheesy made-for-TV movies: are there any other kind? The whole idea behind a Movie of the Week is that it probably didn't pass muster to warrant a big-budget, big-screen premiere and thus was beamed straight to your television instead. Lucky for you, you get to watch it in the comfort of your own home rather than being ridiculed at the ticket counter.

As someone whose mother only tunes the TV to three channels (for the record: Lifetime, Hallmark, and Lifetime Movie Network), I am well-versed in the art of the made-for-TV movie. They're not hard to miss. You can usually identify them in the TV listings by title alone. I'll give you a hint: Article Adjective Noun/Verb: The ________ _________ Story. Popular variations of adages ("Too Little, Too Late" "For the Love of a Woman") made good titles, as did vague, overgeneralized cliches ("A Mother's Love" "A Daughter Scorned"). It wasn't exactly rocket science.

The 90s brought us some particularly cheesy TV movies featuring some of our favorite teen stars desperate to be taken seriously as actors. I'll give you a hint: a movie of the week isn't going to cut it. For the most part, viewers just couldn't get over the idea that Zach Morris raped DJ Tanner or that the pink Power Ranger was an anorexic gymnast. I'm still struggling with the idea that Rebecca from Life Goes On killed Donna Martin.

Here are just a few of the many, many made-for-TV movies starring out favorite teen sellouts:


No One Would Tell (Candace Cameron, Fred Savage)



Kevin Arnold, how could you? This one came as a real shock to me. In 1996's No One Would Tell, Fred Savage played high school BMOC Bobby Tennison. He begins dating the eager Stacy (Cameron) and wins her over with all sorts of romantic gestures. In Lifetime movie world, that's actually an ominous sign. Actually, if you're male and you're in a Lifetime movie, it's almost guaranteed you're going to have to rape, kill, or at least abuse somewhere. I think there's a clause in the actors' contract.

Predictably, Bobby grows more and more jealous, and his behavior eventually descends into abuse. Blinded by her love, Stacy refuses to leave, despite experience with her mother's abusive relationships. Bobby ends up slitting her throat and throwing her in the river, and Sally Jessy Raphael shows up as a judge to give us the requisite talking-to: "You have a responsibility to the people you care about. If you see them hurting or you see them in trouble, you step in and you TELL someone, so that this does not happen again." It's not the most subtle of messages, but at least it's a good one.



Fifteen and Pregnant (Kirsten Dunst)



Will they ever stop playing this movie? My guess is no, considering I've probably seen it around thirty times since it premiered in 1998. Kirsten Dunst stars as Tina, who is (you guessed it!) both fifteen and pregnant. Someone in their movie naming department really deserves a medal for this one.

This is pretty much the quintessential impregnated teenage girl movie, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It has it's moments, though like all Lifetime movies it tends to be a bit melodramatic and overwrought. It's not a bad movie overall, though it pales in comparison to MTV's 16 and Pregnant. It's probably not quite as scripted as the MTV reality show.



Without Consent: Trapped and Deceived (Jennie Garth)


Jennie Garth did a lot of these made-for-TV movie projects over the years, but this one may have taken the take for theatrical dramatics. She starred as Laura, a wild teenager who gets into a drunk driving accident. Her parents send her to a psychiatric facility in lieu of disciplining her themselves. The asylum, it turns out, abuses and drugs its patients. The doctors try to hold her down with tranquilizers, but she escapes and tells her parents the sordid tale of her experience there. They don't believe her, she goes back, they do believe her, they try to get her out. It may be based on a true story, but it's an old and tired one.



A Friend to Die For (Kellie Martin, Tori Spelling)



Yeah, yeah, I know, in the 90s we were supposed to buy that Tori Spelling was the popular girl because she got a nose job and a dye job and her dad was Aaron Spelling, but I secretly always thought she was more convincing as a nerd on Saved by the Bell. Regardless, here she was in a 1994 Move of the Week playing The Most Popular Girl in School, bitchy cheerleader Stacy. Life Goes On's Kellie Martin stars as Angela, the Girl with Low Self Esteem for whom we should all feel sorry until she stabs someone.

Like many made-for-TV movies, A Friend to Die For is based on a true story, and a juicy one at that. Angela is desperate to fit in and joins the Larks, a club to which many of her more popular classmates belong. Angela idolizes rich cheerleader Stacy, who couldn't want less to do with her. Angela vies for Stacy's attention and eventually gets her alone and confesses her admiration for her. Stacy is justifiably freaked out, and tells Angela she's going to tell everyone at school what a weirdo she is. What's a girl to do? Why, stab Stacy to death, of course. Oh, and blame a less popular goth girl. Eventually the truth comes out about Angela, but the whole thing serves as a sort of cautionary tale against cliques. Ignore a less popular girl and face uncertain homocide. Something like that.



A Burning Passion: The Margaret Mitchell Story (Shannen Doherty)


Biopic made-for-TV movies can be dangerous territory, particularly if the lead actor isn't quite capable of carrying the project. Such was the case of Shannen Doherty in her portrayal of Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell, who couldn't even be bothered to read the book (though she did see the movie!). The whole thing reeked of a cross-promotional ploy to promote Scarlett, CBS's miniseries based on the sequel to Gone With the Wind. Doherty's Southern accent was truly, truly awful, and her performance was rightfully ripped apart by critics. Frankly, Shannen, we just didn't give a damn.



She Cried No (Candace Cameron, Mark-Paul Gosselaar)


Candace Cameron just can't catch a break in these, can she? It seems she's always pitted up against some teen superstar as helpless victim. Why they always have to cast the most wholesome TV guys in these awful male antagonist roles is beyond me. I get it if they're looking for an image change, but I just don't know if abusive boyfriend of frat boy rapist is the direction they should be going.

Like all made-for-TV movies that deal with the theme of drinking in college, the message is that it's always, always bad, and you will inevitably end up getting yourself into terrible situations. Cameron plays Melissa, a sweer underage co-ed who has too much to drink at a fraternity party and is date raped by Scott (Gosselaar). Melissa eventually stands up for herself and takes action against Scott, which is great, but I can't let go of the idea that Zack Morris could be so cruel to DJ Tanner. It just doesn't add up.



Perfect Body (Amy Jo Johnson)



Amy Jo Johnson (the pink ranger and Felicity's friend) plays Andie, a rising gymnastics star who develops an eating disorder. She eventually turns to bulimia upon the suggestion of a friend and ends up passing out at competitions. It's all very The Best Little Girl in the World, but overall it's not bad for a cautionary tale. It highlights the pressure young girls (and particularly athletes) to be thin. Still, I just couldn't stop thinking of Johnson as the pink Ranger. You can take the girl out of the superhero outfit, but you can't take the superhero outfit out of the girl.



It seems the formula still holds true: if all else fails for a former teen star, they can always make a buck or two in a tearjerker Movie of the Week. Artistic integrity is always second place to a steady paycheck. Considering Tori Spelling received a whopping one hundred thou for her participation in A Friend to Die For, it's probably the actors who get the last laugh.

33 comments:

Mrs. Dew said...

I used to LOVE the made for TV movies. Didn't they have one every Sunday or Monday night? I remember SO looking forward to that night of TV...oh those were the days...

Maggi said...

I remember the Spelling/Martin one. Martin was full on creepy in that movie. And Fred Savage being the bad guy was horrid. NOOOOO! lol

Cee said...

Ok I think all of these have been on Lifetime in the past month. They never get old...I watch them and feel like one of the robots on Mystery Science Theater 3000

JGIWC said...

KEVIN ARNOLD HOW COULD YOU?! YES!!!!!! That's definitely my favorite of the bunch, if only because he's in it, and still damn cute as a total asshole. Also, gotta love a movie with its own theme song. Death of a Cheerleader is another favorite. Believe it or not I've never seen Fifteen and Pregnant. Should I track it down? I saw a pretty decent one a few months ago with Sara Paxton about binge drinking but I forget what it's called...

P said...

Made for TV movies are definitely a guilty pleasure of mine, we don't get enough of them over in the UK! I DO remember though that the first time I saw Kellie Martin in ER I remembered she was the girl out of the Tori Spelling film (THAT'S how I remembered her!)

Autumn Twig said...

LOL, you're so right. And we keep seeing them over and over again on tv

very married said...

my only criticism is that perhaps you really can't call the kirsten dunst movie her selling out... cuz at that point she had only really done child actor stuff right? maybe i'm getting the timeline wrong but this movie came between the kirsten dunst we know now (spiderman, bring it on) and the kid kirsten dunst (jumanji, interview with a vampire).

that being said, i've GOT to give you some crazy love for your ability to come up with fun topics about the nineties!

Quincifer said...

Ahhhh I remember Death Of A Cheerleader and No One Would Tell....memories :)

Melanie's Randomness said...

Wow, I don't remember any of these. I think that's a good thing tho. Whew.

Tiffany said...

This cracks me up! I think Candace Cameron was the queen of made for TV movies! Her and Kellie Martin!

ajroyston said...

We actually watched "A Friend to Die For" and "No One Would Tell" in high school Health class. Also, don't forget the 1992 made for tv movie "A Killer Among Friends" with Kelly Kapowski...another classic.

Nina said...

Oh, those movies were amazing(ly bad). Almost as good (bad) as those "Moment of Truth" Lifetime movies.

Wasn't Tiffani-Amber Thiessan in a few of them, too? I remember one of them she was engaged or married or dating a rapist and in another she was a rape victim.

Gwen said...

Okay. I totally watched "No One Would Tell" about a month ago one Sunday when I was being lazy. It so hard to watch Fred Savage get that evil look on his face. :) XOXO

Melissa said...

I haven't seen any of these! It's funny that the exact same types of movies are still in Lifetime all the time though. I'm gonna have to look for some of these!

Ice Queen said...

It's a real shame these actresses made these terrible 90's tv movies because I absolutely loved them in their awesome 90's tv shows. Go figure.

OceanDreams said...

Oh it is endless how many movies they make, some of them I love and some of them are just down right cheesy. I love Children of the Dust and The Thorn Birds, those are my all time favorites. :)

Marci Darling said...

One of these days all the Disney rejects will end up in these movies.

floacist said...

I don't know what video it is that you posted for 'Perfect Body' (seems fan made) but its definitely not the trailer to the movie.

Cool list btw :D

Sadako said...

I loved that DJ kept getting beaten/raped. She's the one with the best support network!

Shannon Doherty doing a Southern accent reminds me of when Brenda on 90210 got the role of Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and she had the worst accent--they all did!

Heather Taylor said...

I was so horrified the first time I saw No One Would Tell...why Kevin Arnold, why?
If you haven't seen it yet, you must see Odd Girl Out. That one was intense. Poor Alexa Vega.

ark said...

Haha! I've totally seen some of these on Lifetime while being bored. That Fred Savage thing reminds me of that episode of Boy Meets World where he's that creeper teacher and hits on Topanga. Wow, Kevin needs some guidance. And the pink power ranger! You forgot to mention that she was Susie Q! Haha.

ark said...

P.S. I'm pretty sure that DJ's mom is the mom from "My so Called Life!" Wow.

Jen said...

That's so funny, I just did a similar re-cap on my blog last week about made for tv movies!

Great stuff!

Shoshanah said...

I definitely loved Fifteen and Pregnant back in the day.

Molly said...

The less popular goth girl in Death of a Cheerleader was playing by Cold Case's Kathryn Morris. Seriously.

I've seen most of these numerous times, but I've never even heard of the Margaret Mitchell one or the Jennie Garth one. Wacky. I should check the Garth one out. It sounds awesome.

I wish the guys at rifftrax would take on some of these. It would be ever so much fun.

Molly said...

Wait, wait, wait, Oceandreams, they made a movie out of children of the dust?! I read that a few years ago and thought it would make a great movie...too bad someone at lifetime got to it first.

Melanie said...

Best one ever: Dying to Belong, starring Mark Paul Gosselar, Hilary Swank, Sarah Chalke, and Six from Blossom. It's about sorority hazing and our sorority watched it together with the new class every year as an example of what they would not have to go through.

Anonymous said...

Ive been trying to remember the name of a movie that my mom recorded us and we watched it a billion times. It was cheesy. It was about a girl whos dad found remodeled a classic car from the junkyard that a female ghost was attached to who died in it on prom night. The ghost made her help find closure. Anybody remember this one? The girl in it kinda reminded me of Wynona Ryder, if i remember right. i believe it had to have been in the early 90's.

Aiden said...

Thank you so much! I have been wondering for years what that movie was that I saw so many years ago. It was "A Friend to Die For." I love your blog.

Amanda said...

Wait - The list left out "The Face On The Milk Carton" with Kellie Martin where she discovers that she was kidnapped when she was 3 after seeing herself on her milk carton in high school. I MISS THESE MOVIES!

Sam said...

This one is for anonymous February 4th 2010 comment. The movie that were trying to remember the name of is called "Susie Q"(: Better late than never.

K.A. Bell said...

Ah...another cheesy one with Jennie Garth is "A Loss of Innocence" where she plays the quiet, repressed Chelnicia Bowen. (Can't ever forget a name like Chelnicia.) Or what about that one with Soleil Moon-Frye where she gets murdered by this dude who's cheating on his girlfriend with her? Who played the girlfriend...hmm...she was on Kate & Allie...Ari Meyers!

Kristie said...

Loved that one with Patty Duke! Great movies from back in the day!

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