Saturday, July 08, 2023

“V.C. Andrews’” Dawn, on Lifetime

V.C. Andrews never gets mentioned as an example of “Southern writers,” but she certainly was one. You know her Southern gothic tales of incest would have amused Tennessee Williams (but he surely would have found them trashy, just the same). She wouldn’t have recognized much in her latest Lifetime miniseries, because it was the first posthumous series entirely written by the estate’s mostly-transparent ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman, but the themes and style are highly Andrewsian. Get ready for some sibling awkwardness when V.C. Andrews’ Dawn premieres tonight on Lifetime.

Dawn Longchamp’s family moves so much, you would almost think her father is a wanted man. Well, as a matter of fact… Ormand Longchamp risked returning to Richmond, because as an elite prep school’s new handyman, his children, Dawn and her emotionally supportive (perhaps to an unusual extent) brother Jimmy could attend for free. Unfortunately, Dawn makes an enemy of the school’s queen bee, Clara Jean Cutler, when she outshines the mean girl’s singing talents.

Sadly, tragedy soon strikes the Longchamp family twice, when her mom dies and her father is arrested in the hospital. It turns out he was wanted for kidnapping Dawn from the well-heeled Cutler family. She was known as Eugenia Cutler then. Not surprisingly, Clara Jean is less than thrilled to suddenly have her as a sister. Her new “parents” try to make nice, but they are mostly useless. The real power in the Cutler family is her new grandmother, Lillian Cutler, whose abusive behavior rivals that of Cinderella’s wicked step-mother. It is also super creepy to be around her new brother Philip, the school cad, who was trying to put the moves on her before they knew they were related. On the plus side, Jimmy Longchamp is now fair game.

Seriously, what were you expecting? The good news is Brec Bassinger (Arrowverse’s Stargirl) is probably the best of Lifetime’s recent V.C. Andrews heroines. She brings a sympathetic presence to the first two feature-length installments (“Dawn” and “Secrets of the Morning”) provided for review. On the other hand, Linda-Lisa Hayter’s helming is disappointingly pedestrian. In fact, “Secrets of the Morning,” which focuses on Dawn now-Cutler’s studies in New York, largely feels like an old-fashioned coed drama, losing its Southern gothic flavor until the final twenty minutes.

Still, it is rather amusing to see New Kids’ Joey McIntyre as Michael Sutton, the visiting faculty member who tries to seduce Dawn in “Morning.” Unfortunately, Fran Drescher is largely wasted as Agnes Morris, Dawn’s boarding house landlord, but she still gets prominently billing on the key art. Regardless, the real star of
Dawn (Don’t Call Me Eugenia) is Donna Mills, who calls on all her primetime and daytime soap opera experience to vamp it up as evil Grandma Lillian. She chews the scenery like a carton-a-day smoker gnashing nicotine gum, which is exactly what Dawn requires.

Of course, it is all wildly cheesy. The first installment greatly parallels the unwatchable
Ruby, which really shouldn’t be much of a surprise, since it was also based on one of Niederman’s ghost-written V.C. Andrews series. Recommended for fans of Mills’ work (on Falcon Crest, Melrose Place, etc) and Andrews’ novels, but absolutely not for any self-respecting gothic horror aficionado with any sense of taste, Dawn starts airing tonight (7/8) on Lifetime.