Review of 2016’s Cruel Intentions Un-Released Pilot
In 1999, an interpretation of Dangerous Liaisons was released in theaters starring some of the hottest teen stars such as: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillipe, Reese Witherspoon, and Selma Blair. The movie was called Cruel Intentions and immediately made waves amongst all of us young adults. It was controversial and was extremely erotic and a bit incestuous. It was the type of movie that uptight people get really bent out of shape about because it didn’t shy away from showing just how horrible some people truly are.
It’s strange because of all the teen/young adult movies to come out around that time, Cruel Intentions really stands apart for me. It seems to exist in its own universe that is quite unique and does not feel like any other movie I’ve ever seen. The cinematography was wonderful, the acting was spot on perfect (along with the casting), and the soundtrack/score are some of the best. The Verve Pipe’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony” always stands out as the song most associated with the film, but I’m incredibly partial to Placebo’s “Every You Every Me.” It’s just a wonderful song. And the score is haunting, yet beautiful and is definitely one of my favorites.
Following the success of Cruel Intentions, a television prequel pilot was ordered and picked up by Fox entitled Manchester Prep. But prior to Fox airing it, they cancelled the series and the pilot was eventually released as a direct-to-video sequel called Cruel Intentions 2. I recall starting the film, but I turned it off after twenty minutes. It was no Cruel Intentions. I didn’t even bother with 2004’s Cruel Intentions 3.
Not much was mentioned about Cruel Intentions until 2016 when a new pilot was filmed for a sequel series to the first film. Upon reading the initial reports of the new TV show, I found myself quite uninterested, but then Sarah Michelle Gellar signed on and my interest in the show went from 0 to 100 within seconds. Could a true sequel to Cruel Intentions be coming? Well, I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to find out, because NBC decided not to pick up Cruel Intentions and for whatever reason, neither did the CW where I think this show could have thrived had it been toned down a bit.
About three months ago, I got my hands on the completed Cruel Intentions pilot. I finally got around to watching it and let me tell you, it’s damn good! It’s a shame that this wasn’t picked up. I know not everyone will get a chance to watch this, so I’m going to do a full review here complete with spoilers. However, if you can get your hands on it, and you enjoyed Cruel Intentions, definitely check it out. It’s a worthy sequel and I think you’ll enjoy it.
Cruel Intentions begins in a place least likely, Kansas. We are introduced to a handsome young man, who is on break from working in the kitchen for a catering company at a fancy shindig for some people who are obviously better off than he.
A beautiful young lady comes over and flirts a little bit with our mystery man and then she asks him if he’d be willing to snag her a couple of beers and she promises to make it worth his while. He refuses initially, obviously more concerned with keeping his job, but after she quickly flashes him, he walks over and brings her a beer right as her boyfriend sits down in the seat he was previously occupying. The young girl tells him, “Sorry, I don’t date the help” and our young protagonist is forced to walk off to his mother (who is also working this event) to get chastised for serving beer to his friends.
We can tell from their interaction that both mother and son are quite close and as they begin talking about their situation (working this event) you can tell that neither are totally in love with living in the middle of nowhere and working hard for others. A song begins to play and our very charming protagonist takes his mother by the hand and they begin to dance. It’s a touching scene that again, reconfirms what a great relationship they both have and his mother mentions that he reminds her so much of his father.
We cutaway to his father driving in his pickup truck while getting a blowjob from a man. His cross hanging from his rearview mirror falls down and as he reaches down to get it, he doesn’t see the semi-truck coming that instantly kills him.
Wow… that was intense and unexpected. I can also see why NBC decided to pass on this, it might have been a better fit on Netflix or Amazon.
The pace at which this pilot moves is incredible and it’s amazing how well it works.
We cut to a scene after the funeral as guests are leaving the home of our protagonist and his mother. It’s made clear that Bash and his mother didn’t know about her husband’s homosexuality. Bash is obviously upset though and throws a baseball through a mirror. In what is arguably the most convenient and unlikely part of the plot, he finds a hole in the wall with a journal sticking out. Of course, this is the journal that Ryan Phillipe’s character Sebastian kept detailing the bet he made about deflowering Reese Witherspoon’s character Annette in the first film.
Now, because I went into this so blind, I had no idea that this TV show was meant to act as a direct sequel. I knew Sarah Michelle Gellar was going to show up, but I really thought she was going to be a very minor character. So, once the journal showed up, everything started clicking into place about who Bash was and his mother and well… if you didn’t get it then the next scene will explain it all.
Bash’s mother, Annette, shows up and finds Bash sitting on the floor upset, reading the journal. She admits to him that the man who just died was not actually his father, but Sebastian Valmont, the man who wrote the journal was indeed his true father. The Jaguar that was up for bet is in fact kept inside their barn. They fight, like you’d expect, and we hear a voice over as Bash leaves his mother a note telling her that he’s got to find out more about his father and we see him uncovering the Jaguar before taking off to find his true family.
We are then treated with a beautifully re-created scene from the original film as the camera flies around Bash in the convertible Jaguar as Bitter Sweet Symphony begins to play. They spared no expense in making this scene impactful and it immediately links back to the original film in a brilliant way. The title comes up, complete in the original font for Cruel Intentions and I sat there stunned. That really worked well and I would have been okay with the show ending there.
The moment I was waiting for but figured wouldn’t come to the end happens next as we see Sarah Michelle Gellar, Kathryn, being interviewed for an upcoming piece about a home for disadvantage children that she is opening. In less than a minute, we get her whole downfall summed up and we establish that since her epic and public failure as a high schooler, she has been slowly working to make a better life for those who do not have the same luxuries as her. We also see that as the reporter tries to steer the conversation to her teenage controversy, that Kathyrn is still a tough, vindictive bitch as she counters his abusive tone with evidence that he plagiarized a recent article he wrote from an old newspaper that is no longer in business. She’s beautiful, but ruthless. I love it.
In fact, I have a take a moment and mention how well this script has been written. I mean, it took just a minute to catch the audience up on everything and it was done brilliantly. I’m just in awe at how well this is working so far.
Kathryn’s assistant is forced to go out front to deal with an issue which ends up being Bash, in his father’s car, arguing with a groundkeeper and demanding to see his aunt, Kathryn. The man isn’t budging and when Kathryn’s assistant shows up, she reinforced the groundskeeper position that Kathryn will not see unexpected guests. That’s when Kathryn walks out and see the car and the journal that Bash is holding and she welcomes Bash into her home and tells her assistant to find him a room to stay in while he’s in town to learn more about his father. The assistant is none too pleased and doesn’t treat Bash very well.
We find Bash next getting grilled by Kathryn’s husband, Pascal. Pascal works as a lawyer for Kathyrn’s stepfather/Sebastian’s father Edward (Peter Gallagher). Pascal is concerned that Bash is here to claim his father’s one billion dollar inheritance and it can’t come at a worse time, since Edward is under federal investigation and Pascal is in the process of forcing Edward out of his company and taking over the family finances. Kathryn cuts off Pascal a bit and you get the sensation that Kathryn truly believes that Bash is her nephew.
Pascal makes a call to Edward to let him know about this heir to this fortune. Edward’s security guard Sullivan picks up the phone and it seems like Edward has more money than he would ever need. They are actually transporting a horse via Lear jet to avoid customs. Sullivan doesn’t want to bother Edward, but Pascal screams and he finally walks in on Edward having a little fun with a supermodel. Upon hearing the news, he redirects his flight home to meet his supposed grandson.
Pascal and Kathryn are in the bedroom discussing Bash and their plans to out Edward and ensuring their financial security. We find out that Kathryn’s mother has passed away, so technically Bash is the true heir to the family fortune if Bash is truly Sebastian’s son. We also find out that Pascal and Kathryn’s relationship is not one of romance, but of mutual benefit. Pascal gets to be rich and enjoy Kathryn’s body, while Kathryn gets to keep her status and wealth.
Meanwhile, Pascal’s daughter Cassidy is attempting to sneak into the house via Bash’s room and she walks in on him while showering. There is obviously a connection between the two of them and Cassidy is quite the flirt. When Bash asks for a towel, he throws him a wash cloth. They continue to banter when Kathryn walks in on them.
The next morning Kathryn and Pascal take Bash to meet his grandfather. He steps off his jet with his security guard in two and they immediately slam Bash down on the hood of the car and swab his cheek for DNA. Edward threatens to kill Bash if he’s not his grandson and for trying to take his money. Meanwhile, Pascal tells Edward that a federal witness has come forth and he needs to meet with investigators. He refuses and tells Pascal that “They know where I’ll be.”
Edward takes Bash out to play polo, which Bash is not very good at, but his intensity and drive reminds Edward of Sebastian. Pascal is still not impressed and pushes again for Edward to step down from his company temporarily until things blow over. They hint that Edward doesn’t trust Pascal completely and maybe is even onto his plan.
Upon arriving back to Kathryn’s house, Pascal shuts the door on Bash and tell him there is a hose around back. Bash is covered in mud from playing polo (and falling off the horse) but this is one of those scenes that makes you want to strangle Pascal. He’s such an asshole.
While Bash cleans himself off with the hose, Cassidy and her friend show up. They do rich snooty girl talk and pretend to ignore Bash while talking about him and in the midst of their conversation Bash is informed that he will accompany them to a party this evening.
Enter a helicopter. Rich people have all the perks.
Cassidy’s mother arrives via helicopter to visit her daughter under the pretense that he daughter isn’t returning her calls. Cassidy and her mother seem to have a good relationship, but you can tell her mother is a powerful woman. Pascal comes out to greet his ex-wife and is summoned to follow her. While talking, Cassidy admits that she is the federal witness that has been called in against Edward and lots of snide remarks are made about how Pascal is enjoying the perks of marrying into money (including changing his name) while Cassidy is gaining fame and power through running for office. Cassidy offers to drop/change her testimony against Edward in exchange for Kathryn’s Center for Special Students find a new location since votes in her district do not want to see a historical landmark demolished to make way for the school.
Bash, Cassidy and her friend arrive at the party which is taking place on a yacht. It’s insane and a beautiful shot. The party is full of pretentious teens that have way too much money. We are introduced to Cassidy’s ex, who treats Bash like crap, and from what I can tell was once straight but is now gay. Bash is definitely out of place social wise, but his stunning good looks makes him fit right in aboard this yacht of Abercrombie models.
Meanwhile back at Kathryn’s house, Annette arrives looking for her son. We get the dreaded and uncomfortable reunion between the two once rivals. So far, Kathryn has come across like a slightly changed woman and her reaction to Annette is more of the same. They are both cordial and Annette is really worried about Bash. Kathryn finds out that Bash is at a party and will be back in a while. Annette excuses herself to go find a place to say in town when Kathryn insists that she stay with her. She says they have plenty of room and she’s not comfortable sending family to a hotel. That’s when it dawns on Annette that they are indeed family and Annette agrees to stay.
Now, so far, I’m summarizing each scene into tiny fragments of all that occurs. As you can see, this show has covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time. In fact, by this point, we are only halfway through the episode! Roger Kumble (the director of this and the original film) wrote this script along with two other writers and they deserve some major recognition for putting together such a tight well-paced episode that not only brings the viewers up to speed with relative ease, but starts treading new ground.
Kathryn and Annette proceed to have an awkward conversation updating each other about what has gone on over the past fifteen years. Kathryn apologizes for her part in what happened at the end of the movie and admits that she’s been sober for fifteen years. Annette accepts her apology and says she can forgive, but she will never forget before stomping out of the room.
We cut back to the boat party, which is admittedly the weakest part of this episode. It’s obvious that there is some sexual tension between Bash and Cassidy and Cassidy’s friend decides to exploit this by coming onto Bash and basically exposing what a demented weird world they live on. She gets Bash high, which he seems to do out of spite and confusion over the mixed signals Cassidy gives him. He ends up waking up locked in some room with no clothes on while Cassidy cuddles up to her ex/gay boyfriend.
Once Bash returns to Kathryne’s house he’s surprised to see his mother there, who does her best to convince Bash that he does not belong there and he doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into. Bash isn’t hearing any of it, because he’s obviously hurt that he was lied to for so long. When they walk outside, Edward pulls up and stomps up to Bash while holding a piece of paper that looks like DNA results. He asks Bash what he has to say for himself, and it looks as if Bash isn’t really his grandson. Of course, at the last second, Edward’s face turns to a smile and he calls him grandson. Edward wants to throw a celebration to welcome Bash into the party and despite his mother’s objections (along with Pascal’s) Edward does as Edward wants.
The party is an elegant rooftop shindig where Bash is recognized in front of all of Edward’s powerful friends. Pascal tells Bash to stay away from his daughter and Edward has a come to Jesus meeting with Annette informing her that Bash was his now and he was a Valmont and that means he’ll never have to want for anything again.
The next day Edward and Kathryn have a meeting and some true colors are finally revealed. Kathryn makes sure that Edward knows Pascal is playing him and attempting to take control of the company and she offers up an alternative, put Bash in charge while Edward steps away. Edward was already ahead of her and tells her that is why he threw the big public party and showed Bash off to everyone. So, Kathryn is playing Pascal, while Pascal is playing Edward, and Edward is playing everyone, but does offer some allegiance (at least as far as we see) to Kathryn and poor country boy Bash is now caught in the middle.
Annette tries once again to convince Bash to leave, but he refuses. He finally pleads with her that they “deserve this lifestyle” and she agrees to stay in town with him.
Our final minutes of this show go pretty insane and I can see clearly why NBC wouldn’t air this. It definitely belongs on cable and not network TV.
So, Kathryn, who discovered that her assistant is banging Pascal, runs into her assistant and it looks as if they are going to have it out over the affair. The assistant promises that she’ll do anything to please Kathryn and Kathryn looks as her mischievously and says, “Anything?” She proceeds to stick her finger in her assistants mouth who gently sucks on it, before demanding that she strip down. She takes off her top, but Kathryn is not satisfied and says more. You see the panties drop right before Kathryn shoves her tongue down the assistants throat and mentions that she hasn’t had fun like this for years.
The kiss was nowhere near the memorable one from the first film, but it was good and unpredictable. It showed that this show would have a lot more in common with the film that most people would assume.
The next scene takes it a step further as we see Kathrynne retreat to her office and pull out a picture book that tracks Bash his entire life. She has baby photos and everything, thus revealing that she’s known all about him the entire time. She then pulls out a picture of Sebastian (Bash’s father) and it looks like they took wardrobe test photos of Ryan Phillipe and used them for this.
It’s clear that Kathryn is still obsessed with Sebastian as her wall has a giant digital poster of Sebastian on it and after she takes a snort of coke (totally, not sober) she begins to fantasize that he walks in to see her (complete and in his trench coat). She then proceeds to masterbate in a wonderfully filmed scene that goes in and out of her reality and her fantasy and man is it a bit erotic. In one sweeping motion of the camera you see that Kathryn is alone and pleasuring herself and as the camera circles back around you see Sebastian (or possibly Bash) in the trench coat feeling her up.
It’s revealed that Bash is outside watching her and her voice over confirms that she thinks he has a lot in common with his father and the game has only begun.
WOW. Friggin WOW.
I said it early on and I’ll say it again, this pilot was fantastic. It was well written, well directed, and didn’t shy away from the erotic tone of the original film. It gave us more of this depraved upper society that was so well executed in the original film, and it’s a damn shame it wasn’t picked up. I can totally understand NBC not airing it, because it’s a bit risky, but I think this show could have been great on FX or somewhere that didn’t mind pushing the boundaries a bit.
I have a feeling we don’t be returning to the world of Cruel Intentions ever again and this pilot was essentially the sequel I’ve always wanted. Maybe the whole “rich people screwing over rich people” plotlines would have gotten old, but I would have loved to seen it play out.
It’s a shame that we will never know what will happen to Bash and the rest of the gang. It was a worthy attempt at rebooting a dormant franchise into a viable commodity. And I cannot recommend you check it out highly enough if you enjoyed the original film.