Published on August 25, 2019
“Cruel Intentions” TV pilot is based on the 1999 cult classic of the same name and follows the continuing escapades of Kathryn Merteuil, the aristocrat who thrives on lies, sex and power. Kathryn has eventually escaped her high school demons and moved deep within the confines of the concrete jungles of upstate San Francisco for pastures greener, but one thing hasn’t changed; the conniving buxom redhead is as devious as ever, swapping wagers in love for wagers in business, and there are plenty of big fish in this pond to fry.
Sarah Michelle Gellar shaped over a decade of TV (“Buffy The Vampire Slayer”) and later film (“The Grudge”) for the noughties generation, and her contribution to the time capsule was nothing but pop culture gold. “Cruel Intentions” was one of those cult 90s phenomena the actress appeared in. The 97-minute feature not only changed the public’s perception of what the typical teen movie archetype should be; it also included an orgasmic soundtrack and allowed the TV-bound Gellar to put down her stake and stretch her acting talents outside her known genre box.
Since the 1999 teen blockbuster that saw Gellar locking lips with Selma Blair and seducing her step-sibling, played Ryan Phillippe, there has been one lacklustre sequel and two TV pilots. The first pilot was a prequel to the aforementioned, called “Manchester Prep”. “Manchester Prep” was scheduled to air in September 1999 on FOX but was eventually cancelled and edited down into “Cruel Intentions 2”. Before its DVD release March 13, 2001 additional nudity was shot and added so Columbia Pictures could secure an R rating in similar tradition to the “Poison Ivy” series. The edited-down series focuses on Sebastian Valmont (Robin Dunne) and his transfer to Manchester Prep following his father’s new marriage to Kathryn’s wealthy, recently-divorced mother. Valmont, who wants a fresh start, has his chances scuppered by his ex-principal, who is insistent on having his permanent record relayed to the new school. Annoyed by his principal’s hampering Sebastian retaliates by pulling a cruel stunt on the principal’s wife.
“Cruel Intentions 3” is the only direct movie sequel and introduces Cassidy Merteuil, Kathryn’s cousin, to the series. The film, other than the loose connection to the Merteuil family, has no further correlations to the original movie and again cashes in on other familiar seduction cinema troops by using a dangerous game, lust and manipulation as its springboard to line the studio’s pocket further. The second pilot, a more faithful addition to the brand, was filmed more recently in 2016 under the NBC umbrella and promised to give fans a continuation they had been itching for since the original credits closed to black.
Written and directed by Roger Kumble (“Cruel Intentions”) alongside Lindsey Rosin and Jordan Ross, the show picks up fifteen years after the events of the first film and follows 17-year-old Bash Casey, son of Sebastian Valmont and Annette Hargrove. After the death of his stepfather, Bash discovers his late father’s journal and immediately ups sticks to upstate San Francisco to seek out his birth family, with his mother in hot pursuit. Upon his arrival he meets the former coke-snorting, modified-crucifix-wearing Kathryn Merteuil, his step-aunt. Quickly the tables begin to turn and Bash is thrown into a world that is so far from his humble beginnings it might as well be Oz, as the conniving Kathryn returns to her roots with even more devious intent in mind.
""Cruel Intentions" solidifies Gellar’s position as the queen of slick exploitation and gives audiences a chances to catch up with the Marcia F#*king Brady of the Upper East Side."
The pilot begins on a footing that fans of the series won’t be familiar with before we are relocated to the grandiose mansion of aristocrat Kathryn Merteuil and Pascal Barrett (Coby Bell), where almost all of the corrupt entertainment takes place. The hour-long episode is a punch above the waist when compared to the earlier incarnation, “Manchester Prep”, and incorporates sufficient thrills and a profoundly intriguing premise to move the drama forward, developing Kathryn’s character without pissing on the hospitality and smoothly introducing a new brood of Hellraisers. But let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment, the only reason I really returned was to see Kathryn up to her uptown, rich bitch tricks again, and this is where the pilot predominantly fails. Whilst the show marginally recaptures the essence of the motion picture, including Gellar locking lips with Nathalie Kelley, and the revival retains enough soapy fun to create an over-the-top alluring slice of glamorous guilty pleasure, Kathryn here is only the subplot and the major substance goes to Bash, who feels as if he was a leftover character from Dawson’s Creek.
Taylor John Smith (Bash) tries hard to elevate himself to Ryan Phillippe’s standards, even in an early scene quip, where he is rudely interrupted by Cassidy (Samantha Logan) butt naked in the shower, but he fails. His foreplay hasn’t the same discernible charm as his on-screen father and his comedic beats fall short in almost every ratio; his character’s agenda simply isn’t there or strong enough to compete with the ever-looming shadow of Ryan, and anybody who’s seen the oozingly dark 1999 classic will recognise the over familiar similarities and Smith’s failed attempt to out-smooth Phillippe, as they stand out a mile.
Kate Levering is another victim of a weak casting choice for Annette Hargrove. Reese Witherspoon wrapped audiences around her harp strings playing Hargrove while projecting an air of superiority over Phillippe’s Sebastian. Levering’s screen time is nothing short of a watered down imitation. Had Reese returned to continue Annette’s story, her character’s determined ideology would have held more meaning from the viewpoint of the audience. Gellar and Witherspoon’s onscreen chemistry, which had Hargrove eventually take the upper hand bringing Kathryn down as less than whiter-than-white, could have propelled the immensely naïve moral epistemology of past and bring the character actresses’ reunion full circle, which Levering could never do. Reese’s heels were high heels to fill and it’s very apparent throughout.
Yet even with the pilot’s failed attempt at matching the lurid exploits, three-way collision of seduction cinema and movie noir, it solidifies Gellar’s position as the queen of slick exploitation and gives audiences a chances to catch up with the Marcia F#*king Brady of the Upper East Side.
My psychoanalysis, Dr. Freud, is that the direction is strong, the script is sassy and the performances are strong, but depending on your point of view you would have either loved or loathed this outing. Should it be recut into a film with additional A&T shots like “Manchester Prep”? No! Do we deserve the already in-the-can pilot as it was intended to be seen? Yes! The “Cruel Intentions” show is certainly a strong start but it’s no vintage Jaguar.