Since 2007, TV Club has dissected television episode by episode. Beginning this September, The A.V. Club will also step back to take a wider view in our new TV Reviews section. With pre-air reviews of new shows, returning favorites, and noteworthy finales, TV Reviews doesn’t replace TV Club—as usual, some shows will get the weekly treatment—but it adds a look at a bigger picture.
It’s hard to believe TLC formed almost 25 years ago, but it’s even harder to believe that the group hasn’t really been active since 2004, two years after Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes died in a car accident. Several of the R&B trio’s songs are still around, and the remaining members—Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas—haven’t wholly disappeared from the spotlight. Thomas, in particular, has done everything from showing up in music videos of her then-boyfriend Usher to proclaiming herself “Team Guy” on a recent episode of Food Network’s Rachael Vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off.
And though the TLC may not have been making music the past five or 10 years, it’s been in the conversation. Watkins and Thomas, played some dates recently, and, perhaps most notably, signed a deal with VH1 in 2011 to make a feature-length TV movie about the group’s inception, near demise, and redemption. The result, CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story airs Monday, October 21 on the network.
While there certainly are some sordid details in the TLC story (Lopes’ fiery relationship with football player Andre Rison, Watkins’ sickle-cell anemia, and the group’s longstanding financial problems, to name a few), VH1 already objectively covered most of the real dirt with its 1999 and 2011 Behind The Music episodes. While the members were interviewed and involved in those episodes, the shows did a good job taking an unbiased look at the group, something that CrazySexyCool certainly can’t do.
CrazySexyCool fails on a number of planes, but its biggest faults come from its blatant inability to look at the group from an outsider’s perspective. The movie has clunky exposition, horrible lip-synching, and questionable messages about relationships, but more than anything, it’s just goddamn hokey. Considering both Watkins and Thomas developed and signed off on the script, it shouldn’t be a surprise that rather than presenting a story about Lopes’ struggles with alcoholism and the series of deadbeat men in the group’s life, Crazy comes off as a story about three wacky girls who might have grown up without dads, but always knew they were stars. Narrated in part by Watkins’ and Thomas’ characters, the biopic finds the group battling and overcoming cartoonish villains—from manager Perri “Pebbles” Reid, who signed the group to a bad contract, but apparently didn’t really try all that hard to keep them around, to Lopes’ ne’er-do-well boyfriend “Larry,” who everyone but her knows is married. While it’s got to be hard to tell the story of three members’ lives and one band’s career in two hours, everything in CrazySexyCool is painted with such broad, hazy strokes that the entire thing reads like a Chicken Soup For The Soul story: Try hard enough, sing and dance well enough, and everything will be all right.
There are definitely sweet moments in the biopic—Watkins learns she’s pregnant after being told for years that she would never have a child, for instance—but they’re quickly tempered with such overwhelming schlock that even the genuinely heartwarming stuff becomes overly saccharine. One positive for the movie: The actors cast to play the girls (Keke Palmer, Lil Mama, and Drew Sidora) are great, and the reenactments of the band’s signature music videos (“Waterfalls,” “Creep,” “No Scrubs”) are really spot on.
While it’s possible to make a good movie about a living person, or to capture the legacy of a band or an actor while still remaining mostly honest, CrazySexyCool doesn’t do that. That’s not necessarily the fault of the movie; maybe the drama the public perceived with Lopes wasn’t really all that dramatic within the group. It probably was, though, yet Watkins and Thomas chose not to air any of the group’s dirty laundry. That’s fine. That’s their choice, but it makes for a pretty boring, hokey biopic. Anyone other than fawning superfans should just watch those Behind The Musicsinstead.
Directed by: Charles Stone III
Starring: Keke Palmer, Drew Sidora, and Lil Mama
Airs: Monday, October 21 at 9 p.m. Eastern on VH1
Format: TV movie