The funniest thing about the preview for “A Deadly Adoption,” the new Lifetime TV movie starring Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig, is that the clip – with its somber-looking players and air of menace wafting through an otherwise idyllic setting – doesn’t look much different than any other Lifetime TV movie preview.
The blurb also is classic Lifetime: “Inspired by a true story, ‘A Deadly Adoption’ is a high-stakes dramatic thriller about a successful couple (Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig) who house and care for a pregnant woman (Jessica Lowndes) during the final months of her pregnancy with the hope of adopting her unborn child.”
Instead for starring in major movie comedies, Ferrell and Wiig are spending the summer as residents – and parodists – of the medium that launched their careers: television. In addition to the Lifetime movie, which debuts Sunday, they're returning July 8 to IFC for another mini-series spoof, “The Spoils Before Dying.”
Ferrell and Wiig used their years on “Saturday Night Live” to create comedy ranging from the outrageous (Ferrell as a post-9/11, patriotic office worker clad in an American-flag thong) to the outright weird (Wiig as the creepy, rag doll-like hellion Gilly). But now they’re embarking on a riskier venture: mining humor from playing it straight.
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The duo, cut from similar comedic cloth, didn’t overlap on “SNL.” But they’re crossing paths in their serpentine careers.
Wiig turned up as a tipsy would-be femme fatale on the late, lamented HBO comedy “Bored to Death,” while her movie roles have spanned from breakout mass market laughers (“Bridesmaids”) to bittersweet turns (the underrated “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”) to dark humor-laden drama (“The Skeleton Twins”).
Ferrell hops platforms like few other performers – everything from movies to videos on his Funny or Die site to a surprise as snack icon Little Debbie to commercials for Old Milwaukee. Perhaps his most offbeat role came in the Spanish-language soap-opera-ish flick, “Casa de Mi Padre.”
Last year, he played Eric Jonrosh, a writer with a Harold Robbins-like body of work and an Orson Welles-like body, in “The Spoils of Babylon.” Wiig co-starred with Tobey Maguire in the spoof of 1970s-era decade-spanning epic mini-series, filled with over-the-top Machiavellian machinations, infidelities, and the creations and losses of fortunes, against a CliffNotes historical backdrop.
“The Spoils Before Dying” offers a second previously “lost” Jonrosh classic, with Wiig, “SNL” alum Maya Rudolph and Michael Kenneth Williams heading the 1950s jazz noir that was “banned until now.”
The initial “Spoils” installments wrung laughs with purposefully cheesy effects and performances from a cast that also included Tim Robbins, Haley Joel Osment and Val Kilmer. The tone is decidedly campier than what we’ve seen so far of “A Deadly Adoption.”
Still, the “Spoils” series wallows in melodrama – not all that different from the fare that’s become the lifeblood of Lifetime, whose executives are showing a sense of humor as the network marks it 25th anniversary. Check out previews of “A Deadly Adoption” and “The Spoils Before Dying” as Ferrell and Wiig use differing degrees of deadpan to breathe comedic life into satire-worthy TV genres.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.