Drama Queen

Commentary: Alphabet Soup

I have a weakness — well, it’s one of many, of course. But this one is particularly vile and causes me special shame when I am forced to admit it to others.

But we’re all friends here, right? We share our stories. We tell each other our deepest, darkest, most hidden secrets. Fine, twist my arm — I’ll go first.

I am addicted to bad movies. Really bad movies. The lower the star rating, the better. I’m talking one star, maybe two. More than two and it’s iffy — less than one, well, I don’t think I’ve had the honor of laying my eyes on such a spectacle.

Fortunately, I work a weird schedule, which means I’m up late. And sometimes I get a touch of the insomnia, so I’m often up really, really late. If you think late-night television is all about paid programming, think again. At this writing, I’m about three-fourths of the way through a 180-minute movie that Lifetime Movie Network has managed to stretch into four hours. It’s OK, this movie — but it’s three stars, and it’s not bad enough to make up for the horrible, lengthy commercial breaks.

Mostly these movies are background noise for me; I’ll have one on while I’m working or engaged in a worthwhile pursuit such as a Sudoku puzzle. (In that arena, more stars are better.) I’m never engrossed to the point of not being able to leave my house and I’ve never intentionally recorded one of these movies so I could watch it later. (TiVo occasionally works in mysterious ways; hence the “intentionally” caveat.)

Lifetime Movie Network isn’t my only source, but it’s a rich one. And all ye who cast aspersions toward or show disdain for this channel, thinking it takes itself seriously, think again — they air commercials mocking the movies they show.

There are other channels geared toward the fairer sex that show the lamer movies; I know their channel numbers by heart — and in the age of digital cable, this is no small feat. They are on my surfing circuit when I’m looking for something to watch. Rarely do they all let me down at the same time.

Even when the chick channels fail me, there are the forty-eleven HBO and Cinemax options, where I can usually find something crappy. Of course, if one of my less-crappy standards is on, I’ll usually put that on for the 80th or 90th time, but there comes a time when it just makes sense to watch Omen IV: The Awakening from start to finish, pausing and rewinding the especially ridiculous scenes.

If a movie is a docudrama, based on actual events, that’s super. If it’s just inspired by actual events, well, that’s even better. If it’s somebody’s idea of being creative, based on nothing at all (see Omen IV — you won’t regret it), that’s stellar. It’s the pinnacle of all that is wretchedly wonderful in the made-for-TV industry.

Anything with dramatic scenes in slow-motion automatically qualifies for the suckfest that I call entertainment. Anything with particular actresses in it — Meredith Baxter and Kate Jackson come to mind — is worth a couple of hours of my time. Almost all of these stories are about women who overcome adversity of some sort — a stalker, an abusive lovers, a kidnapped child, rape, parental beatings. If I’m having a really lucky day, there’s a movie on about a kid who was locked in a basement for several years. (Inspired by actual events!)

Ideally they’re at least 15 years old, or are poorly enough made so the film quality looks that old. If there’s ’80s hair in the movie, it’s an automatic hit.

Don’t get me wrong; what makes them so fabulously foul is not the subject matter; it’s the effort these actors make to appear as if they take their roles seriously. They spew forth ridiculous dialog and contort their faces into expressions that would make Mr. Potato Head laugh. They lunge at their attackers in slow motion, the giant butcher knife glistening in the air. When they hit someone with their hands, they wouldn’t dream of using a fist — they slap or bat like angry kittens.

It’s simply delicious.

Occasionally, of course, these movies venture into the realm of the gay. (Not Omen IV, unfortunately.) Stereotypes go flying — or stereotypes are boldly defied. Either scenario is rich.

Sometimes the portrayals are just matter-of-fact, which is great, but apparently we’re not ready for that as a society. A recent showing of What Makes a Family — the Brooke Shields movie about a lesbian fighting for custody of her child after the birth mother has died — included a warning after each commercial break about the sensitive nature of the program. Nobody was stalked on that movie; nobody was beaten. No mistresses were shot in a jealous rage. Yet that one merited the “sensitive content” flag that I’ve rarely noticed before one of these other movies.

My entertainment venues are not perfect. They could learn a thing or two from GLAAD. I could stop watching them in protest, but then what would I do? Watch the Sci-Fi Channel? Hardly. Become a student of the past and spend my hours watching the History Channel? No way, no day. C-SPAN? Only for playing “Name That Senator” (and it’s hard to find friends who want to play that with me).

My daytime rotation, when I have the luxury of watching television in the early part of the day, includes dramatic re-runs of recent television series that would merit more than a couple of stars. I enjoy them, but they lack something. Or maybe it’s what they have — an appalling supply of tact. But from them I get perspective on just how crappy my bad TV choices are, and that’s important.

Besides, the decent drama stars of today might be the crap TV movie stars of tomorrow. I’ve been known to glue myself before the TV set on Thursday nights to watch ER just because Maura Tierney is that easy on the eyes. She’s a good actress, but so was Meredith Baxter once, back in her Birney days.

Maybe we have hope for a future, Maura and I. She’ll have to practice contorting her face into ridiculous expressions, but I’m not going anywhere. I’m right here waiting, flipping between three or four reliable channels.

Kristina Campbell can be reached at kcampbell@metroweekly.com. But don’t expect a reply until the movie’s over.