Why Doesn’t Lifetime’s College Admissions Scandal Reference Olivia Jade, Lori Loughlin, Or Felicity Huffman?
You know what they say about real life sometimes being stranger than fiction? Well, Lifetime’s new “ripped from the headlines” made-for-TV movie College Admissions Scandal is kinda like that, in more ways than one. The film, which premieres Saturday, Oct. 12, on Lifetime, is a distilled reimagining of the shocking real-life events that went down earlier this year, thrusting Lori Loughlin (aka Aunt Becky from Full House) and Felicity Huffman (aka one of the Desperate Housewives) into the headlines. It’s more about the essence of what happened than trying to tell either woman’s story exactly.
To be fair, the movie kicks off with a disclaimer that the hour-and-a-half flick is only “inspired” by true events, but anyone who’s been following the news cycle knows that the entire premise of the movie, and the excitement surrounding it, is predicated on the salaciousness of “Operation Varsity Blues,” the real-life college admissions scandal that saw some $25 million paid to bigtime swindler Rick Singer by overeager parents desperate to get their kids into top colleges around the country.
Because of the celebrity buzz around the cheating scam, it would make sense for Lifetime to at least present the real story naming the real people in the College Admissions Scandal, just dramatized as fiction; as happens, though, the movie’s main characters bear only a passing resemblance to Loughlin and Huffman, and Loughlin’s influencer daughter Olivia Jade isn’t even really portrayed in the flick at all. This, director Adam Salky told Los Angeles magazine, was done purposely.
“The film is not about any of the real families,” he said. “We looked at all the families involved and we kind of said to ourselves, ‘What kind of people were part of this? There were people connected to Rick, people who want the kids to go to those kinds of schools, people who had a certain socioeconomic level,’ and we really actually tried to avoid any similarities to anyone specific with regards to the families. But Rick Singer is a real character in our film.”
And indeed, Singer, played by Michael Shanks, is quite a presence in the movie. Onscreen, the character oozes a sort of charlatan charm and confidence that may feel icky to viewers, but really seems to work well on the hundreds of rich, anxious parents he preys upon. Shanks-as-Singer even has the same unusual helmet haircut that the real-life Singer rocks.
Meanwhile, the characters who are clearly meant to be stand-ins for Huffman and Loughlin, Caroline (Penelope Ann Miller) and Bethany (Mia Kirshner), only bear vague resemblances to the Hollywood actresses, possibly because their own trials were ongoing during production of the film. (Just last week, Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in jail for her involvement in the scam; Loughlin is still awaiting trial. By contrast, Singer, who pleaded guilty, faces up to 65 years in prison and a hefty fine of $1.25 million.)
As such, the two main characters in College Admissions Scandal only resemble Huffman and Loughlin in that one, Caroline, is apprehensive about getting in on the scam, and immediately admits to guilt after the FBI tracks her and her husband down, while the other, Bethany, denies any wrongdoing and attempts to spin the story in her favor (sound familiar?).
And Bethany’s daughter Emma (Sarah Dugdale) is no Olivia Jade; she does school projects about homelessness and only agrees to go along with the charade because she wants to attend Yale with her college boyfriend. Meanwhile, Caroline’s son Danny (Sam Duke) is an aspiring musician who is completely blindsided after his parents are arrested; in real life, Huffman and husband William H. Macy have two daughters, both of whom ostensibly knew nothing about the scam.