Lifetime’s A DEADLY ADOPTION is Brilliant – And Don’t Believe Anyone Who Tells You It’s Not

willFor 30 years, Lifetime has been making predictable movies about women in peril, marriages on the skids, and adorable children in danger. These competently produced but uninspired films usually feature familiar faces from TV and provide disposable diversion for the channel’s core female audience.

Saturday night, Lifetime paid homage to that history while simultaneously mocking it with a delightfully bizarre inside joke.

A DEADLY ADOPTION follows the Lifetime blueprint, but with a surprising twist: Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig, two icons of contemporary comedy, play the lead characters. Ferrell is Robert Benson, a recovering alcoholic and author of self help books. Wiig is his wife Sarah, a stay-at-home mom who operates a baked goods stand at a local farmer’s market, selling sugar free treats concocted for their diabetic daughter Sully (Alyvia Alyn Lind). 

All is ostensibly well until the Bensons decide to take in pregnant, unmarried Bridget (Jessica Lowndes). Sarah, as we learn in the film’s prologue, is unable to conceive after a tragic accident, and the couple hopes to heal by adopting the baby Bridget can’t afford to keep. Bridget has other ideas, of course, and with the help of her tattooed grifter boyfriend Dwayne (Jake Weary) she turns the Benson’s seemingly idyllic life into a bloody nightmare.

When the existence of A DEADLY ADOPTION was first revealed earlier this year, the film’s pedigree – two Saturday Night Live vets and a writer (Andrew Steele) best known for farce (he also wrote SNL) – led to assumptions it would be a parody. But Lifetime didn’t promote it that way, nor did they offer much explanation for why two huge movie stars were playing roles that in past decades would have gone to Ed Marinaro and Tracey Gold.

Taken strictly at face value, A DEADLY ADOPTION is not funny. This seems to have been a disappointment to critics and audience members who believed they were owed the sort of broad antics Ferrell and Wiig routinely deliver on movie screens. But what’s most brilliant about the film is the very thing for which people are condemning it: it’s not obvious. And more importantly it’s not jokey, because Lifetime Original Movies are not jokey.

If parody is exaggeration for comedic effect, A DEADLY ADOPTION succeeds because it distills the art form to its essence, heightens each trope, and delivers an enjoyably metatextual deconstruction, while simultaneously being the thing it is deconstructing. More simply: A DEADLY ADOPTION isn’t (just) a parody of a Lifetime Original Movie, it is a Lifetime Original Movie. Only more so, and with Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig.


Ferrell and Wiig don’t wink at the audience even once, playing exactly the sort of bland, khaki-clad yuppies you’d expect. (Ferrell’s wiry comb-over and close-cropped beard are themselves worthy of Emmys.) Lowndes is appropriately hammy as the batshit crazy pregnant girl, delivering expected howlers like “I’m your new mommy!” with bug-eyed glee. And Bryan Safi is great as Wiig’s seemingly gay co-worker, who communicates his character entirely through coding (perhaps as an homage/indictment to a past when gay characters on Lifetime, or TV in general, could’t be obviously out).

Steele fills the script with unnatural expository dialogue and hackneyed set pieces, managing to squeeze in one laugh-out-loud line  – “You know the dangers of diabetic Ketoacidosis!” – while still remaining true to the characters. And director Rachel Goldenberg uses every trick in the cheesy book, including cutting to a distant wide shot as a major character is murdered, with a sound effect of flapping birds filling the morbid silence. The climatic sequence in which she allows multiple characters to run around with life-threatening gunshot wounds harkens back to the bloodless fakery of classic film noir and is alone worth the price of admission (which was free, but you get my point).

As with great mockumentaries like ZELIG (1983) or THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984), A DEADLY ADOPTION likely confused viewers who didn’t know if it was serious or a joke. Let me clear it up for you: it’s both. My girlfriend, a regular viewer of the Lifetime Movie Channel, got caught up in the plot, yelling things at the screen and predicting story points as she would with any other Lifetime Original. She reveled in the obvious, even though she was totally in on the joke. I enjoyed the remarkable subtly, shocked that the network who brought us Lindsay Lohan in LIZ AND DICK was committing this fully to an experimental joke very few might get.

And if you’re wondering why Lifetime decided to blow up their own brand after three decades, just look at all the attention A DEADLY ADOPTION has generated. They attracted eyeballs that have likely never been there before (mine included) and, in the process, promoted buzz-worthy new shows like Unreal (which I sampled after the movie and recommend). Nowadays you have to throw bombs to get attention, and A DEADLY ADOPTION may be just the sort of so-bad-it’s-good bomb Lifetime needed.


About willmckinley

I'm a New York City-based writer, producer, and digital marketing consultant. I've been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by Robert Osborne), NPR, Sirius Satellite Radio, and the official TCM podcast. I've written for, Game Show Network, getTV, Sony Movies, and NYC weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News. I'm also a contributor to four film-and-TV-related books: "Monster Serial," "Bride of Monster Serial," "Taste the Blood of Monster Serial," and "Remembering Jonathan Frid."
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83 Responses to Lifetime’s A DEADLY ADOPTION is Brilliant – And Don’t Believe Anyone Who Tells You It’s Not

  1. I must watch this son after reading your review!

  2. Considering that Lifetime (a channel I’ve previously only watched for Project Runway) just completed the fantastic schlock that was The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, maybe they’ve discovered the value of kitsch, camp and/or irony. I haven’t caught A Deadly Adoption yet, but it definitely looks like another step in the right direction, especially if they refused playing it for straight laughs, as their choice in leads may have led many to otherwise presume.

  3. College daughter tivoed it last night and she, my twin high school daughters, hubby, and I watched it this afternoon. What a hoot! We all took turns yelling out warnings at the characters. I hope Lifetime does this again.

  4. Lola says:

    I dvr’ed, DVR’d…whatever. I recorded it! When I first read about this in April, I seriously thought it was another “Funny or Die” joke. My only question: Is it better than, say, “Sharknado”? The first one, of course.
    Thanks, Will!

  5. kat0711 says:

    Finally a reviewer that got it!

  6. Thanks for the heads-up, Will! On Demand, here I come!

  7. yes and I WATCHED EVEN THOUGH I AM NOT A WILL FERREL FAN I kept waiting for the other shoe but it remained firmly in first Mr Ferrell’s hand and then Ms Wigg’s…yes…I liked it, damn it…

  8. Kelly says:

    i didn’t find it funny Will the movie was genius anyway LOL!

  9. Kelly says:

    Yeah I was yelling at tv screen I saw it live I decided check it out on whim it on Verzion on Demand now just check out my guide LOL!

  10. Thanks a bunch for this review as I am a lifetime movie watcher. I am also a Will Ferrell fan, I have not seen this movie yet, but will be definitely looking it up.

  11. Ok, what are Lifetime paying you? They are, right? RIGHT? If they aren’t, they should…

  12. Julie Phelps says:

    The only people who I’ve talked to who hated it are the people who don’t “get it.” It’s supposed to be one giant cliche, and it’s freaking brilliant!!! The fact that they played it straight— and the end card just put the cherry on top.
    Jessica Lowndes deserves an Emmy. Seriously.

  13. Cimarron Burt says:

    This review is everything. Loved the bit about the film as a self-de(con)structing artifact. Can’t wait to watch this now!

  14. Reblogged this on GeneralHospitalforeverzone and commented:
    I literally loved it!

  15. darkk7333 says:

    Guys plse visit my blog at

  16. BeginItAgain says:

    Reblogged this on Begin It Again.

  17. stevengorry says:

    Reblogged this on stevengorry.

  18. I think it’s ignorant that critics gave it negative reviews for not being a funny movie. Have they never seen “everything must go” starring Will Ferrell? Does anyone know when it airs again? I would love to see it.

  19. testxmav says:

    Reblogged this on testxmav and commented:
    Nice Blog

  20. Joshua says:

    Reblogged this on MOTIVATUS.

  21. And on the Lifetime stepping their game up tip
    I do find it odd, however, that a channel with a predominately female demographic does so many shows based around psychotic women,

  22. cecejohn7 says:

    now I really have to watch this after reading what you have to say!

  23. Mike says:

    College student who loves the show 🙋

  24. This will be come Lifetime’s own Rocky Horror Picture Show cult fave, complete with stock phrases for the audiene of repeat viewers to yell at the screen and things to throw, wear,pose as and dance while viewing, right?
    Thanks for posting!

  25. SNOOPYCY says:

    dis isn great stuff

  26. zunidhi says:

    Reblogged this on OPTIMISM.

  27. Reblogged this on serendipitousjulia and commented:
    I am so glad that they did this not just to attract a new audience but to draw attention to the true talent that lies inside these two comedic actors. Bravo to Lifetime AND to Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig for stepping outside of the box.

  28. mommyseuss says:

    This is so perfect because I actually saw the title of this movie on Lifetime the other day, but I passed on it because I figured it was like all of the other Lifetime movies on Lifetime.. Cheesy. But if I had seen their names under the cast I totally would have watched it. Now I feel like I missed out and I hope it comes on again. When you first said they were in it I was thinking… Wait a minute. Wtf? So random. But definitely going to watch it now. 🙂

  29. hiro812 says:

    I haven’t caught A Deadly Adoption yet, but it definitely looks like another step in the right direction, especially if they refused playing it for straight laughs, as their choice in leads may have led many to otherwise presume.

  30. YES is all I have to say about this 👍

  31. CJ says:

    Nice review. I’ll watch anything with Will Ferrell in it, as he is my favourite actor. I also love Kristen Wiig aswell. I’m sure i’ll enjoying this without a doubt.

  32. dougstuber says:

    Try “No Man Shall Profit from Another Man’s labor” at Thanks for your Blog

  33. Lifetime did an excellent job with this movie. While I find myself watching their movies every so often I did make it a point to MAKE SURE I watched this due to the irony that Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig were playing the lead characters. I felt the need to see how they would portray the characters. Very clever!

    • kat0711 says:

      The part at the end where Kristen Wiig pushed the surrogate into the boxes was perfection because just the right amount of boxes fell on her. Any more would have been too comical and given away the joke. Any less and I wouldn’t have died of uncontrollable laughter every time I rewound it. The entire movie was a display of masterful restraint such as that one which copied the ridiculous elements of a lifetime movie so that we know what Wiig/Ferrel were trying to do yet they were able to oh so carefully hold back just enough. Unlike that 9/11 sketch where Will Ferrel showed his patriotism at work by stripping down to an American flag thong lol!

  34. Mz. CandyKisses says:

    Reblogged this on LadyB_86blog.

  35. As Queer As The Stone Age says:

    Sure to be come a cult classic of the so bad its good cult…or maybe the so good its bad cult? Idk but looking forward to seeing this!

  36. mguerrier says:

    So totally agree with bradleydvicious

  37. Emmanuel_Drew says:

    It’s hard to believe this is a drama.

  38. A. J. Lee says:

    Hi, I watched this to the end a few days ago. I really did. The ending well, a big sigh.. A nice review.

  39. L.C.S says:

    It’s good to see two amazing comedians act out such an intense movie! excited to see it after this review.

  40. goldessymost says:

    You have got to believe me when I tell you it is not! I’ve only watched 20 minutes of it, I know what I’m talking about.

  41. Reblogged this on hollywoofland and commented:
    We DVR’d this, but haven’t yet watched. When we do, perhaps all three dogs will review.

  42. comfyreading says:

    I want to watch this oh so bad!

  43. Reblogged this on edgarmeloecosta and commented:
    Edgar Melo e Costa

  44. katey2 says:

    Its a definite must watch. Must be amazing!

  45. anitaozolins says:

    I look forward to seeing it! I love both of these actors 😉

  46. This was a great review of the movie. The fact that it was not comical was what drew me in and kept me hooked! Great movie

  47. This movie was great, it was chock full of cheesiness, and the actors played it completely seriously, which just made it even better. Good on them for doing something that they obviously enjoyed, and I’m sure they’re happy they’ve confused everybody so much!

  48. I can’t wait to watch this

  49. Jer says:

    I was going to watch this based on the weird cast choice – I’m glad to hear it was good!

  50. lookingforhappiness says:

    amazing! I had no idea about this film, but I’m definitely going to watch it!!!
    han xx

  51. Belinda says:

    I watched this when I came on, I personally love lifetime but this was not one of their better movies.

  52. Pingback: Lifetime’s A DEADLY ADOPTION is Brilliant – And Don’t Believe Anyone Who Tells You It’s Not | reallyuselessinformation

  53. Seja says:

    When watching show I can honestly say I forgot they Ferrell and Wiig were even comedic actors. I totally agree with you.

  54. Pingback: 2015 Robert Downey, Jr. Award for Entertainer of the Year: Will Ferrell | The Movie Rat

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