Logline: Modern spin on the late 90s cultural phenomenon that will center around the 16-year-old sone of the late Sebastian Valmont and Annette Hargrove, named Bash Casey. Upon finding his late father’s journal, Bash learns of the family legacy he didn’t know existed. In search of answers, he trades his small-town Kansas upbringing for a scholarship to the prestigious brighton Preparatory Academy in San Francisco and soon finds himself in a world of sex, money, power, and corruption he never could have imagined.
Cast: Taylor John Smith, Samantha Logan, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sophina Brown
Creators: Roger Kumble (Writer / D/ EP), Lindsey Rosin (Writer / EP), Jordan Ross (Writer / EP), Neal Moritz (EP), Pavun Shetty (EP)
Studios: Sony Pictures TV, Original Films, AMBI
Our hero is Bash Casey, the son of Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon’s characters Sebastian and Annette from Cruel Intentions. Annette is now Annette Casey, working at a bar in Kansas. Bash thinks his biological father is Trevor, Annette’s husband. What Bash doesn’t know can’t hurt him, right?
Wrong. On Independence Day, Trevor dies in a car accident while getting a blow job. Devastated, Bash makes a series of discoveries. Trevor was gay, and quite literally in the closet. Trevor wasn’t his biological father. Annette has hidden Sebastian’s journal in a hole in the wall (what?). There’s a whole world out there, y’know, waiting to be discovered as a result of a series of coincidences.
Erm. This was a ridiculously contrived setup to bring Bash into the world of Kathryn (Gellar), the only “original.” Bash is predictably furious about not knowing his father. So he drives all the way to San Francisco to Kathryn’s mansion. This is all teaser, by the way.
What surprises me is that Kumble & co. aren’t able to get under the skin of characters both new and old. They’re in a rush to tell this story. A slower setup could have paid off; there’s enough material in here for two episodes. Why not get to know Annette and Bash a little better before throwing a dead biological father at Bash? If we don’t know who Bash is, why should we care?
There’s a special place in my heart for Les Liaisons dangereuses, and all the various forms in which it is tirelessly thrown at us. I desperately wanted this to work. I don’t think it did.
By the end of the first act, things have picked up from the teaser, but there’s still no real reason to watch on. We’re still distanced from Bash. Sure, he’s not in Kansas anymore. But we have no idea how he’s feeling. It’s borderline impossible to buy Annette letting her guard down and befriending Kathryn. The pilot is aware of these deficiencies, and delivers them to us in one swift blow, network-style, when Bash and Annette tell us exactly why they’re both living on Kathryn’s property in San Francisco. I still don’t buy it.
There’s a lot of “smart talk,” naturally. But it’s smart talk from the 1990s, with the result that Bash and Kathryn sound more silly than suave. I know a camp sense of humor comes with the territory, but does it have to be so camp?
By the end, two throughlines do clearly emerge from this jumble. We at least know that the series is going to be about two things. One, Bash’s self-discovery in this new world. In an interesting turn of events, he becomes the subject of a bet (much like Reese Witherspoon in the original film), this time between Kathryn’s stepdaughter and her “ambiguously gay” ex-boyfriend. Two, Kathryn’s quest to snort cocaine and destroy everything east of the West Coast.
To conclude, I’d say Cruel Intentions starts wrong, and ends okay-ish. The focal point of the show, Bash Casey, feels extremely underdeveloped even at the end of the pilot, which is begging for a rewrite. Looking beyond the page, the pilot’s got a lot working in its favor. Gellar. Built-in audience. Easy comps like Dirty Sexy Money, Revenge, and Empire.
As far as primetime soaps go, Cruel Intentions has potential in spite of obvious reservations. But does it outdo Midnight, Texas?