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Lifetime Starts the New Year With an Old Trick: Women-as-Victims Movies
January 3, 2011  | By David Bianculli


Since cable TV is now dominating the genres in which the broadcast networks once did their best (drama and comedy series), it makes sense they'd also inherit what broadcast TV used to do worst -- namely, tacky ripped-from-the-headlines telemovies. This particularly puerile subgenre of television isn't extinct these days. It's alive, and not very well, on Lifetime.

Today, as the first such example of 2011, the Lifetime cable network presents The Craigslist Killer, dramatizing a serial murder case from 2009. And yes, big surprise, it's a women-in-jeopardy movie...

Lifetime has made and collected so many of these movies, it has an entire sister network, Lifetime Movie Network, devoted to them. And what a range of subjects! When you tire of women being targeted, victimized and attacked by predatory men, it's not long before you're presented with a telemovie showing women being targeted, victimized and attacked by predatory women. Younger, even prettier predatory women, usually, making it even more threatening somehow.

The Craigslist Killer, premiering at 9 p.m. ET on Lifetime -- the parent network, not the movie offshoot -- gives female viewers the chance to experience two different types of betrayal and danger, all in one movie.

It begins as a standard love story, with beautiful, charming, confident, brainy college student Megan McAllister (played by Agnes Bruckner) meeting, and falling instantly in love with, handsome, confident, ultra-brainy med student Philip Markoff (played by Jake McDorman). Bruckner, familiar from ABC's Private Practice, is quite beautiful. McDorman, from ABC Family's Greek, is quite handsome. Game on.


As Megan and Philip, they flirt, date, meet each other's parents (hers are rich and initially wary, until Philip beats dad at golf), and make plans to get married.

Before long, Megan is taking her mom and best friend on a wedding-planning tour, selecting gowns, sampling cakes, and generally acting like the star of an MTV or Lifetime reality show on impending brides. Except that her fiance, at the same time, is spending a lot of time on his laptop, and a lot of time at night out "studying."

What he's really doing, apparently, is trolling the erotic and massage areas of the personal-service website Craigslist, contacting people, visiting them in their luxury hotel rooms for intimate meetings -- and binding, humiliating and attacking them at gunpoint, in some cases killing them.

This way, The Craigslist Killer gets to show two, two, two betrayals in one. Every website acquaintance he attacks is victimized by her own trust -- but, given even more weight in this dramatization, there's the betrayal of a seemingly perfect guy, with a wonderful future ahead, who doesn't turn out to be so dreamy, or such a catch, after all.


The case never went to trial, because Markoff committed suicide in jail beforehand -- but to police and in pre-trial interviews, he steadfastly insisted he was innocent, despite a preponderance of damning physical evidence to the contrary. When the lead detective in the movie, played by William Baldwin, asks Markoff why he threw away such a golden future, Markoff has no answer.

Neither does this telemovie, except to present a scene in which Megan visits Markoff in jail and gets some sort of explanation about punishing himself because he doesn't feel worthy. Whether that conversation actually occurred, especially in such perfectly pat psychobabble shorthand, is questionable. Whether The Craigslist Killer should be watched, however, is not much of a question at all.

Don't bother.

Unless, that is, you feel like punishing yourself because you don't feel worthy.
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