Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Make a gift today and you could win a trip to Portugal!

Lifetime's TV Movie Remake Is One Bad 'Mother May I Sleep With Danger'

Selfie-Indulgent: Leila George and Emily Meade in Lifetime's <em>Mother May I Sleep With Danger</em>
Trae Patton
Lifetime/Sony Pictures Television
Selfie-Indulgent: Leila George and Emily Meade in Lifetime's Mother May I Sleep With Danger

The old Mother May I Sleep With Danger is to the new Mother May I Sleep With Danger as a garbage fire is to an audio recording of a garbage fire: I get the reference, but why bother?

The original film aired in 1996 and starred Tori Spelling as Laurel, a young woman whose mother is suspicious of her overtly creepy new boyfriend. The film aired on NBC, despite the fact that it's now what many people use as their go-to when they make fun of woman-in-peril Lifetime movies. But now Lifetime, which has taken up women-in-peril movies in the same way James Franco has taken up performative irony, has teamed up with — hey, James Franco! — to make a completely different movie with the same title. Only now, instead of being about a girl with a creepy boyfriend, it's about a girl with a creepy girlfriend who is secretly part of a roving band of avenging vampire lesbians out to stop campus rape in between Macbeth rehearsals. And while I can understand how that might seem like it would be fun in a Deadly Spa kind of way, it's actually the one thing a movie like this cannot be: boring.

Franco has an insignificant role as the director of that production of Macbeth, but he's also credited with the "story." In that story, Leila George plays Leah, a young woman whose new girlfriend Pearl (Emily Meade) has a lot of dark eye makeup and a secret: she was attacked by a roving gang of lesbian vampires and is now one of them herself. Leah's mother (Tori Spelling, once the danger-sleeper and now the mother, see?) is expecting her to bring a boy home from college, so when she brings a girl, Julie both is surprised that her daughter is interested in women and concerned that her daughter is interested in someone she clearly thinks is weird.

Meanwhile, Ivan Sergei, who played the original Danger boyfriend in 1996, apparently spent about 20 minutes shooting a couple of scenes unrelated to the rest of the story where he plays a professor self-importantly lecturing about the meaning of sexy vampire stories. He talks about "the other," and about homosexuality, and he refers to queer people in an academic context, and you can tell that somebody somewhere (maybe James Franco?) thinks that this is all secretly kind of high-minded and DO YOU SEE HOW STRANGE POWERS CONNECT TO THE SEXUALITY OF YOUNG WOMEN?

Yes. Yes, I do. And I did in Carrie, and in The Craft, and in the many, many other stories in which this has been explored. Vampires as sex objects have been covered, too. Women have been writing and writing and writing about the implications of the Twilight series and what in it appeals to its fans for years now. If this is supposed to be amusingly subversive and secretly interesting, it isn't; it's old hat. It is the oldest hat. There are hats worn by dinosaurs that are not as old as this.

And if it isn't supposed to be subversive, it's the cheap deployment of girl-on-girl sex scenes and young women's fears about campus rape as titillation. That's not to even mention the utterly unfortunate timing of the quasi-serious Sergeisplaining of the hard road walked by queer kids, which I'm not sure we are at precisely the cultural moment to dismiss as just another tossed-off trashy piece of pontificating.

One of the most tiring pursuits in popular culture right now is trying to figure out how clever James Franco thinks he's being and how many layers of irony he thinks there are in things like his run on General Hospital and remaking Mother May I Sleep With Danger. You hear a lot of references to his entire career as a sort of performance art, but performance art doesn't just mean "making bad things with a straight face." If it did, the most artful food in the world would be ... I don't know, instant noodle soup served by Michael Shannon. This just seems lazy. And at some point, every artist must be confronted by the fact that whatever you wrote about your intentions in your journal, the product is what the product is. The fact that you sprayed the stink on it yourself from a bottle labeled STINK doesn't mean it doesn't, in fact, stink.

I adore a silly, campy TV movie. Seriously: If you ever get a chance to watch Deadly Spa with friends or strangers, you should. It's funny and dopey and gleefully stupid. This is just dull, self-satisfied exploitation that thinks having a girl play Macbeth (get it?) and having the witches in the play make the "toil and trouble" scene into a writhing sex video (which Franco, as the play's director, leers at appreciatively) means you have ideas. That's not an idea. That's a photo shoot for a men's magazine with a "10 WOMEN WE WANT RIGHT NOW" headline on the cover.

There's also plenty of terrible filmmaking — the thing seems so slapdash that I secretly suspect Spelling's last sequence in the film was completed without her — but again, whether this is a movie that's bad on purpose or a movie that's bad accidentally, it's the bad kind of bad and not the good kind of bad. And if you can't get the good kind of bad from a remake of a Tori Spelling movie, what is this world coming to, anyway?

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.