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Not Their Fault: Why “A Deadly Adoption” Didn’t Work (and Why It Should Have)

deadly-adoption

On Saturday the Lifetime network — as part of its celebration of 25 years scaring white middle and upper class Lands’ End customers out of their minds — aired a film called A Deadly Adoption, on paper no different than their usual schlocky, sensational Saturday night film fare. The difference in A Deadly Adoption, however, lie in its two leads: in lieu of ex-soap stars or aged teen celebrities, it featured comedians Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig,.

You had to have heard of it; word of it spread far and wide back in April when the news was leaked that Lifetime had a surprise Wiig/Farrell film in the works, and after the leak we were made to believe that Lifetime shut it down. It wasn’t meant to be revealed and, now that it had been outed, the gag was dead. Gawker, in fact, hinted that the reason it was leaked had something to do with Ferrell following his agent in the CAA exodus of March, leaving a bitter taste in mouths at CAA and prompting them to spoil something for him.

But Lifetime thought over their position on the film and decided to run A Deadly Adoption anyway. So they put a trailer together and let the media embrace the idea and run with it. Why not, right? Still funny, right?

Unfortunately, A Deadly Adoption was a horrible, terribly humorless exercise. But it wasn’t Lifetime’s, Ferrell’s or Wiig’s fault. Here was the problem with the joke, which should have worked: We all knew it was coming. The reason you didn’t think it was funny was because you expected it to be funny.

We knew A Deadly Adoption was on its way, we’d seen the trailers, and we had a good three weeks to imagine what hilarious treats were in store for us when it actually aired on Saturday. Would Will Ferrell be playing one of his patented straight-faced lunatics? Would Wiig be playing the loony housewife with one of her textbook affectations? Oh, this would be wonderful, right? What an amazing night of comedy this would be!

No. Instead of the comedic feast we’d imagined, we got exactly what we knew it was going to be — a legitimate Lifetime movie simply anchored by two comedians. The only thing truly funny about it was our imagined perceptions that these two people knew how absurd what they were doing was; for some, that would be enough to stupidly declare A Deadly Adoption a success and treat everyone else like they didn’t get the joke — but the reality was that there was no joke.

There was no joke because the joke was supposed to be the ridiculous surprise of Wiig and Farrell straightforwardly starring in a Lifetime movie. And had news of the movie not leaked ahead of time, this joke would have worked in spades. Let’s imagine the scenarios.

1.) You get a confused text from a friend at 8:30 on Saturday night that Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig are on the Lifetime channel, but they’re not being funny, they’re just in a movie. This would be completely ludicrous and confusing, and there’s no way you wouldn’t have turned to that channel immediately, and texted other friends about it.

2.) Social media, with no prior awareness of the film, suddenly explodes with the realization that, despite its lack of humor or parody, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig are inexplicably appearing in a Lifetime movie. This would become Lifetime’s Too Many Cooks, as it were — its weird surprise on an unsuspecting public. And that would have been brilliant. Good one, Lifetime!

3.) You are a person who watches Lifetime every Saturday night and one night you..wait, no, this scenario is just making me sad. You weren’t the target for this joke. If anything, you might have been the butt of this joke.

Unfortunately, A Deadly Adoption — had it been executed according to plan — would have been a memorable prank. But as it was destined to be a Lifetime movie played straight, now suddenly with four weeks of lead-up for fans of Ferrell and Wiig to anticipate its moves, it was like a joke with no punch line. Ferrell and co-producer Adam McKay are no strangers to this technique (See: Casa De Mi Padre, the duo’s slow-burn Mexican anti-comedy), but that was expected. A Deadly Adoption shouldn’t have been expected. The fact that it was ruined everything.

Blame it on the internet.

Article written by C.M. Tomlin

All I want is a HI-C and a turkey sandwich. @CM_Tomlin