With a mixture of celebrities, true crime, one-percenters and schadenfreude, how could Lifetime possibly resist tackling the college admissions conspiracy?
The proudly melodramatic network has turned the real-life admissions fraud and bribery scheme – which has seen more than 50 parents and college employees, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, indicted on charges of mail fraud and bribery – into its latest "Ripped From the Headlines" movie. Simply titled "The College Admissions Scandal," Saturday's true crime film cast Mia Kirshner as a Loughlin stand-in and Penelope Ann Miller as a Huffman type in a film that tracks the scandal from the two parents' initial relationship with mastermind "college admissions consultant" Rick Singer (Michael Shanks), the only character who retains the real name of his inspiration, to the day the FBI came calling.
The film is fun and corny but not quite campy enough for those who love to grab a bottle of wine and yell at the screen. There's a seriousness to the proceedings, including the somber wrap-up text about what really happened as a result of the FBI sting. Still, there are plenty of high-strung emotions, stupidity and hammy dialogue to go around. We rounded up the highlights from "Admissions," which can keep keen observers of the case satisfied until further court proceedings in the coming months. If you missed it Saturday, you can watch again Sunday (10 EDT/PDT) or on Lifetime's website for a limited time.
Kirshner is the lofty, malicious highlight of the movie
Because Huffman confessed to the crime, apologized for her actions and received a two-week prison sentence, her portrayal in the media coverage of the scandal has been considerably more sympathetic than that of Loughlin. It's the same here: Caroline (Miller) is a more harried, regretful participant in the conspiracy than Bethany (Kirshner), who gleefully sets up her daughter to cheat the system.
Bethany, a wealth management CEO (not a Hallmark Channel actress), offers up every "Real Housewife" rich woman cliché, insisting that her daughter isn't getting into Yale because she's rich and white and that a "minority child" with SAT scores "200 points lower" would get a free pass. She manipulates her daughter Emma (Sarah Dugdale, who resembles Loughlin's much-mocked daughter Olivia Jade Giannulli) into participating in the con. She happily remarks on the "fringe benefit" of being able to write off her bribe on her taxes because the fake foundation Rick set up is a 401c charity. When she's found out and arrested, who does she consider turning to for help? Disgraced financier Bernie Madoff's wife, Ruth, of course.
The rich people's problems abound
The motivation for Caroline, a successful decorator married to a corporate lawyer, to break the law: Her son, Danny (Sam Duke) might become (gasp!) a musician who waits tables. (She suggests he'll end up homeless because he hasn't started a history paper on the 100 Years War.) Plus, everyone else's kids are getting into Princeton and Stanford, and it's just so embarrassing that he scored only in the 1200s on his SATs.
Everyone is so, so dumb
When the real scandal broke this year, transcripts from the FBI sting operation released to the public included mind-boggling moments of self-incrimination. The Lifetime film couldn't quite make this more ridiculous than it was in real life, but it matches the absurdity with moments of Caroline and Bethany admitting to bribery and fraud on the phone while FBI investigators listen in.
There's a scene in which Yale calls to check on Emma's soccer credentials (that's what her application promises) even though she never played the sport in high school. Rick and Bethany never seemed to predict this and weasel out of it only when Bethany berates the school principal.
When the scheme comes crumbling down, a college counselor who was on the receiving end of one of Bethany's tantrums looks happily on the media coverage. She may as well be one of us, watching the Lifetime movie.