Cruel Intentions (NBC) pilot preview: Is this the ultimate soap opera?

Sarah Michelle Gellar in a scene from the film 'Cruel Intentions', 1999. (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images)

Created by Roger Kumble (Cruel Intentions 1 & 2), Lindsey Rosin & Jordan Ross. Based on novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses & movie Cruel Intentions. Directed by Roger Kumble (Pretty Little Liars, The Sweetest Thing, Just Friends). Produced by Roger Kumble, Pavun Shetty (New Girl), Neal H. Moritz (Cruel Intentions, Fast and Furious, Prison Break, I Am Legend), Becky Hartman Edwards (Parenthood, Switched at Birth, American Dreams), Lindsey Rosin & Jordan Ross. For NBC, Sony Pictures Television, Original Film & AMBI. 65 pages.

Description: The beautiful and cunning Kathryn Merteuil vies for control of Valmont International as well as the soul of Bash Casey, the son of her brother, the late Sebastian Valmont, and Annette Hargrove. Upon discovering his late father’s legacy in a hidden journal, in search of answers, Bash 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.

With Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy, Ringer, I Know What You Did Last Summer), Taylor John Smith (Insidious 3, American Crime), Kate Levering (Drop Dead Diva), Samantha Logan (The Fosters, 666 Park Avenue), Nathalie Kelley (UnReal, Body of Proof), Coby Bell (Burn Notice, The Game), Peter Gallagher (The OC, Covert Affairs), Sophina Brown (Numb3rs, Shark), Taylor ZakharBryce Cass

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I feel exactly the same as you probably do about sequels of all sorts. And when it comes to giving an unnecessary follow-up to a movie that is cult for me, that takes me back to my teenage years and that I still enjoy watching from time to time, I’m like a papa bear: I feel protective, the whole idea makes me angry and sad. Cruel Intentions was an awesome movie when it came out in 1999, bold and racy. At a time when you question your sexuality, your confused desires, it was certainly unsettling, disturbing and thrilling. Writer and director Roger Kumble kept the best from Les Liaisons Dangereuses and turned it into a modern and generational tale of power struggle and perversion. It was powerful and cunning and became a boxoffice success, grossing $75 million on a $10.5 million budget. So I read the pilot script of this sequel with a mix of tremendous excitement and terrible fear. And oh boy, I’m relieved to tell you Cruel Intentions the series looks like something primetime soap opera lovers could love to death. Even though we had many disappointments in that department the past few years like RevengeEmpire proved recently there is still an audience for it as long as it’s assumed as such, with wittiness and a bit of insanity. And that’s what’s Cruel Intentions is offering.

First, remember there was a first attempt to make it a TV series for FOX in 2000, which was a prequel that took place several years before, back to when Kathryn first met Sebastian at a prestigious school, called Manchester Prep. They filmed three episodes and it got cancelled even before it premiered. Episode 3 reportedly outraged FOX chairman Rupert Murdoch because of a scene where the character of Cherie has an orgasm while riding a horse. Yes, maybe it was a bit too much. But still, it could have been a really cool teen show, distinctive from what was already on the air at the time like Dawson’s Creek or Buffy. A better Gossip Girl, way before Gossip Girl. In the end, it was transformed into a TV movie entitled Cruel Intentions 2. What happened was a shame and we can see this sequel as Roger Kumble’s revenge, especially since what is depicted in the show is not as difficult to imagine on network television as it was 15 years ago. In the event of another failure, we can still hope for a release of the pilot one way or another. And Sarah Michelle Gellar’s still very active fans will probably campaign for it. But let’s be hopeful for now!

The idea of this sequel came from Roger Kumble himself, as well as Lindsey Rosin and Jordan Ross who wrote The Unauthorized Musical Parody Of Cruel Intentions, whose staging at Los Angeles’ Rockwell Table & Stage in May 2015 generated some buzz and drew Reese Witherspoon, Gellar and co-star Selma Blair, who all attended. The new writers loved the movie, it really shows when you read the script. They tried their best to stay true to the characters, especially to Kathryn Mertueil and Annette Hargrove since they’re coming back, and true to the vibes the movie sent. And they did a great job in my opinion. There’s not a moment when you think “Oh, Kathryn would have never done that!”. They make several allusions to the past, with scenes that mirrors what happened 15 years ago but with the new generation -especially one where Bash leaves Kansas in his car with the diary of his late father on the passenger seat, while the iconic Bittersweet Symphony starts to unfold. But they’re not telling the same story all over again. They update it and move forward.

You got “the parents”, still at war despite appearances, with Kathryn still holding a grudge against Annette who ruined her reputation and made her life a living hell for quite some time. She’s still savory and totally insane, now living with a rich man she’s not in love with anymore but who’s too precious to lose in her great scheme of things. And rest assured, she still got the best lines. Sarah Michelle Gellar can only thrive on this. Some might think it’s sad for her, a step back in her career but let’s be honest: refusing to reprise the role would have been a mistake, whatever happens next. Annette is more or less the same nice gal. But she’s not played by Reese Witherspoon anymore and of course that’s a real concern. We will have to get past this, as hard it is. We can only hope this part of the show will be taken care of as well as in The OC, equally.

The kids, living in the era of Twitter, Snapchat, sextapes, are more promiscuous than ever, still confused and adventurous. Bash is the perfect mix between his smart and innocent mother and his smart and devious father. I don’t know if this Taylor John Smith is any good but he can do wonders with what he’s given. Cassidy, Kathryn’s daughter-in-law, is sexy and bitchy, but I think her ex-boyfriend is way more refreshing. He is gay now and I would compare him to Connor from How To Get Away With Murder. The same kind of manwhore, which is still very new on television. I guess we’ll have a lot of fun with him. He’s funny… and cruel. But they all are, that’s the beauty of it. There’s a huge cliffhanger at the end of the pilot. My lips are sealed. I’m not sure the production will be able to keep it a secret (or will even try?) but it won’t please everybody, that’s for sure. Me, I think it’s bold and probably too hard resist to…

I could elaborate on this Cruel Intentions sequel even more but I don’t want to spoil the whole thing. I’m asking you not to be afraid. It’s the soap we’re waiting for a long time. The ultimate soap? Dangerous Liaisons kinda is, after all. It’s respectful to the movie, it’s full of twists and turns, it’s funny and racy, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and you shouldn’t watch it too seriously either. It’s exactly what you secretly want and hope for. Trust Me. Of course, with all the Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars and Revenge that came and went, it doesn’t feel like it’s this original. But it’s better written. It’s not surprising NBC chose this soap project among all of those they developed. You can hardly do better than this! That being said, it doesn’t fit with the network. At all. And I’m not entirely sure people who didn’t watch the movie at the time, because they were too young or already too old, are willing to give it a chance. You can’t say no to a script like this but casting will be crucial… NBC’d better not be cruel. We need this and we didn’t even know it for all those years!

16 comments

  1. Lucas says:

    I’m so excited to watch this, sadly NBC hasn’t picked it up yet.
    There’s anything you can say about Kathryn? Luv her to death, fave evil bitch and really want to know more about her 15 years later.

  2. Wanda says:

    Denis,

    Jaws The Revenge, Speed 2, American Psycho 2 , and Psycho 2 there not continuations. Donnie Dark 2. Poltergeist reboot movie has elements of the orginal but still different. I’m so excited about the Cruel Intentions TV show. I just want a series order announcement asap.

  3. James says:

    As a fan of the original movie and a lifelong SMG fan, this is a project which holds much excitement for me.
    The only reservation I have is that it will focus to heavily on the younger characters and the fact that it is broadcast on NBC (or any network for that matter).
    They should be cautious of the fact and accepting, that no one is watching this for the new characters. They will be watching it for Kathryn. Too often remakes, or reboots make that mistake. They focus on the new young characters.
    Also, I do wish it were on Netflix or HBO etc.

  4. Wanda says:

    I’m curious to know how you read the script. I don’t see this as a sequel more of continuation and Sarah reprising her role isn’t a step back at all. It made me extremely happy. I believe this will be very successful. With people watching live and delayed viewing and the cast and show runner involved I’m excited to know when it will be aired. Early online, fall, midseason. Personally asap

    • Lulla says:

      A sequel is a continuation. That’s the definition of it! And I didn’t say reprising her role is a step back. I just said “some may think but…”! Please read carefully or don’t comment at all.

      • Wanda says:

        I read what you wrote carefully and I was giving you my opinions. Not all sequels are continuations there are many that are different from the original, and their are sequels that are better.

  5. whisperintherain says:

    Glad to read you enjoyed the script for this one. I have to say I had the same reservations you wrote about when the project was first announced: I tend to be wary of sequels that get made several years after the original. My interest was piqued when Sarah Michelle Gellar entered negotiations to reprise the role of Kathryn and now I really hope this gets picked up to series. Although I would admittedly also have preferred Reese Witherspoon to play Annette, I feel that they needed to recast rather than leave the character out of the story and I’m willing to give Kate Levering a fair chance. I liked her on Drop Dead Diva.

    My main concern though is that it may not be on the right network: NBC has an abysmal track record when it comes to primetime soaps. Historically, even at the height of the genre’s popularity in the 1980s, NBC never managed to have a successful primetime soap: the genre thrived on CBS where Dallas (1978-1991) & Knots Landing (1979-1993) both ran 14 seasons and Falcon Crest (1981-1990) ran 9 seasons, while ABC had Dynasty (1981-1989) which also ran 9 seasons. Even Dynasty’s spin-off The Colbys (1985-1987), which was cancelled after 2 seasons, has a total of 49 episodes… 12 more than NBC’s longest-running primetime soap, Flamingo Road (1981-1982). Berrenger’s (1985) was another failure and yet, both of these shows were from the same production company as the 3 successful CBS soaps.

    More recently, I can think of at least two failed attempts to revisit the genre by NBC: they ordered Titans (2000) in hopes of catching the attention of viewers who were still mourning Aaron Spelling’s recently cancelled primetime soap Melrose Place (1992-1999) and daytime soap Sunset Beach (1997-1999). Despite a fair amount of promotion, they scheduled it on Wednesdays at 8PM, making it the lead-in for The West Wing, which I to this day consider a very weird pairing and it was a huge flop. At one point, there were even rumors that Spelling was trying to bring in Heather Locklear, hoping to reproduce the Melrose effect, but she was unavailable due to Spin City. Things got so desperate that people even started to speculate Spelling might resort to bringing in Joan Collins as her Dynasty character Alexis Carrington Colby to boost the ratings. The show was cancelled with two episodes left unaired in the US.

    Closer to contempary audiences, we can also think of the 2013 show Deception starring Meagan Good, which also failed at keeping a loyal following.

    It’s a strange trend when you reflect upon it, because some of the network’s most successful dramas over the years do have some soapy elements (ER, Third Watch, L.A. Law) but the genre in its pure form has never worked for NBC.

    Let’s hope that Cruel Intentions can turn things around!

    • Lulla says:

      Thanks for your very insightful comment. I couldn’t agree more. But since the audience of a network evolves through the years, my guess is that it’s most likely bad luck than anything else. They probably caught the train too late in the 80s and at the worst time possible in the 00s, when the genre was just dead everywhere. “Deception” was just not good, and probably created to bank on the promising start of Revenge on ABC but this one fell apart quickly and was not the beginning of a new era for the genre…

      • A says:

        Classic prime time soaps was or long-running hits, or huge flops as of 80s to now. Dallas, Knots Landing, Falcon Crest and Dynasty was huge in 80s, but every network also produced many short-lived soaps, not only NBC. So, if NBC will give Cruel Intentions post-Voice slot, on monday or tuesday, it may to be hit.

        • Lulla says:

          I doubt they will give it a spot after The Voice, but if they do, I’ll be pleasantly surprised (and I don’t think it can get anything else than a 10pm slot)

          • A says:

            Best scenario: Monday at 10.
            Also okay: Tuesday at 9 (Chicago Med moving to Wednesday)
            Worst: Wednesday at 8, or at Thursdays.

          • Lulla says:

            You can cross Wenesday at 8! Not gonna happen. Impossible because of the sexual content. Others are possible, though I bet it will be midseason, where there will be room (too soon to tell).

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