Girl in the Basement - movie

"Girl in the Basement" starring Judd Nelson airs on Lifetime.

Can a Lifetime movie go too far? I know just by asking that I’m helping to promote the movie, but when does a disturbing, “woman-in-peril” film become an exercise in disturbed sadism? And a dull one at that?

The phrase “based on real events” tends to wash away authorial culpability for concocting something truly twisted, but the 2021 shocker “Girl in the Basement” (7 p.m. Saturday, Lifetime, TV-14) takes some liberties with its source material.

In 2008, authorities discovered a grim scene in Austria: a basement bunker where a disturbed dad had imprisoned his own daughter for some 24 years, raping her repeatedly and siring several children.

“Girl” places this story in an American suburb and stars Judd Nelson as Don, the mother of all controlling dads, and Joely Fisher as his doormat wife, Irene. Stefanie Scott plays Sara, a spunky young teen who chafes at her dad’s my-way-or-the-highway attitude. In fact, she threatens to opt for the highway once she reaches 18. After breaking curfew and running off to a forbidden party where she meets a dreamy boy, Sara discovers Don has descended into a new dimension of weird. He has turned an old bomb shelter into a dungeon to imprison her for her rebellion.

At first, Irene and Sara’s sister and friends think she’s made good on her threats to hit the road. But as weeks turn into months, hope fades. Meanwhile, Don’s behavior grows more disturbed.

A film this sick is hard to justify. But “Girl” is particularly pointless. There’s absolutely no explanation for Don’s pathology. Or why or when he snapped. And zero chemistry to explain why Irene sticks with him or married him in the first place. Worse, a film this claustrophobic could use some narrative tricks to break the monotony. “Girl” unfolds in a strictly linear, one-horrible-thing-after-another fashion. It’s not so much lurid as boring.

And it gets stranger still as Sara’s incestuous brood grows up in the basement. Despite horrific conditions, Sara never seems to age at all. Similar to the battered 2004 Subaru Outbacks featured in several scenes, decades apart, events seem to unfold in a time all their own. Take it from someone who owned one — those things are ageless.

Judd Nelson is an old hand at deranged cable horror movies. While still most associated with his Brat Pack years, “The Breakfast Club” and “St. Elmo’s Fire,” he starred in the 2000 shocker “Cabin by the Lake” as a scriptwriter whose “research” included knocking off a series of lady visitors. He also starred in “Return to Cabin by the Lake” in 2001.

Anyone contemplating a sequel to this Lifetime atrocity (“Return to the Man Cave!”) should be psychoanalyzed. At least Lifetime didn’t broadcast this on Father’s Day weekend.

• Just who is behind the Golden Globes? The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a group of fewer than 90 correspondents, nominates series and movies in a desperate ploy to publicize themselves. It’s a neat scam that has worked for decades. And it was much more interesting when everyone was in on the joke and no one took them terribly seriously.

We’re now up to the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards (7 p.m. Sunday, NBC, TV-14), and a celebrity-besotted culture appears to take them at face value.

The nominations and awards often have seemed peculiar at best. I’m old enough to remember when Pia Zadora won for “Butterfly” back in 1981. Perhaps because I am that old, I find some of this year’s nominations very mystifying.

To nominate “Emily in Paris” as the “best” of anything is rather perverse. Because there’s not a category for “Most Insipid,” I don’t know what “Ted Lasso” is doing here. Gillian Anderson’s stilted performance as Margaret Thatcher was the weakest element in a strong season of “The Crown,” so naturally she’s nominated for best supporting actress.

But I’m not a member of the foreign press, so no one asked me.

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are your hosts. Help yourself.


• The Brooklyn Nets host the Dallas Mavericks in NBA action (7:30 p.m., ABC).

• A bride-to-be questions her desires after her intended’s brother re-enters the picture in the 2021 holiday romance “It Was Always You” (8 p.m., Hallmark, TV-G).

• Nick Jonas hosts and performs on “Saturday Night Live” (10:30 p.m., NBC, TV-14).


• Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): the state of the vaccine rollout; the aftermath of a rocket attack on the Al-Asad airbase; a profile of novelist Colson Whitehead.

• Ryan Seacrest hosts “American Idol” (7 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

• Young professionals turn to each other for comfort and more in the 2021 melodrama “Don’t Waste Your Pretty” (7 p.m., TV One).

• Zombies never die, and apparently neither does “The Walking Dead” (8 p.m., AMC, TV-MA), returning to finish up its 10th season.

• “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy” (8 p.m., CNN) visits Bologna.

• “The Food That Built America” (8 p.m., History, TV-PG) recalls Kraft “cheese” and Pabst beer.

• “Allen v. Farrow” (8 p.m., HBO, TV-MA) recalls a public scandal.

• Lydia prepares a banquet on “The Luminaries” (8:20 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).

• A case involving an adult actor with a cult following attracts documentary coverage on “The Rookie” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

• Exhibitionism has its limits on “Supervillain: The Making of Tekashi 6ix9ine” (9 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).


A minor TV writer (Woody Allen) is substituted for a blacklisted talent during the McCarthy era in the 1976 drama “The Front” (9 p.m. Sunday, TCM, TV-MA).


A teacher faces backlash on “FBI” (7 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) ... Putting on airs on “Young Rock” (7 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14) ... Boxing (7 p.m., Fox) ... Cori’s secret on “Kenan” (7:30 p.m., NBC, r, TV-PG) ... Conspiracy theories engulf a police officer on “FBI: Most Wanted” (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) ... Jane Lynch hosts “Weakest Link” (8 p.m., NBC, r, TV-PG) ... “48 Hours” (9 p.m., CBS, r) ... A vintage helping of “Saturday Night Live” (9 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).


Queen Latifah stars in “The Equalizer” (7 p.m., CBS, TV-14) ... Marge worries that Bart’s caddy job is morally corrosive on “The Simpsons” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14) ... Ryan’s kryptonite sickness worsens on “Batwoman” (7 p.m., CW, TV-14) ... Judy gets her dad out there on “The Great North” (7:30 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) ... Hetty’s murky message on “NCIS: Los Angeles” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14) ... A walk in the woods on “Bob’s Burgers” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) ... Macy’s frightening inheritance on “Charmed” (8 p.m., CW, TV-PG) ... Sports memorabilia on “Family Guy” (8:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14) ... Another petty officer expires on “NCIS: New Orleans” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

— OK, that was weird. The least expected story of the week was the scandal involving Felicity Huffman (“Desperate Housewives”) and Lori Loughlin, star of “When Calls the Heart” (7 p.m. Sunday, Hallmark, TV-G), in a bribery/cheating plot to get their respective daughters into elite universities.

This is obviously an ongoing case, and all sides must have their say, or day, in court. But the motivation at the center of this story is worth discussing. It involves some overwhelming need to do anything to get children into elite schools. As if anything “lesser” were unthinkable.

Television plays no small role in this insecurity. I can’t remember how many times I’ve had to describe an ABC legal drama where every single character hails from only the most exclusive Ivy and spends most of the pilot bragging about it.

There was a time, not that long ago, when John Grisham wrote best-selling books about young, barely accredited lawyers from no-name institutions who took on impossible cases against massive corporations and eventually won. And got the girl, to boot.

So, our current era’s neurotic obsession with elitism and inequality is hardly hard-wired.

If anything comes of this sordid affair, it’s an appreciation that shoddy efforts at snobbery are always essentially pathetic. Or on classic TV, comedic. Watching “Gilligan’s Island,” we identified with Mary Ann and the Skipper, and pitied the millionaire and his wife.

— CNN launches the four-hour documentary “Tricky Dick” (8 p.m., Sunday), profiling the life and times of Richard Nixon’s public career, which spanned the decades from the dawn of the Cold War to the Clinton years.


— An anxious new mother joins a group for solidarity and support, only to discover that it has darker plans on its agenda in the 2019 shocker “Mommy Group Murder” (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).

— The Thunder and Warriors meet in NBA action (7:30 p.m., ABC).

— An old kidnapper returns to form on “Ransom” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14).


— Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): Embassy workers in China and Cuba complain of mysterious ailments; AOL founder Steve Case and his plans to invest in the future of overlooked American small towns and cities; a visit to Monaco.

— The duels begin on “World of Dance” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).

— Auditions continue on “American Idol” (7 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

— Lex Luthor is on the loose on “Supergirl” (7 p.m., CW, TV-PG).

— Mr. Wednesday prepares for battle on “American Gods” (7 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).

— After learning about her royal lineage, an adopted 10-year-old becomes a little tyrant in the 2019 shocker “Mommy’s Little Princess” (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).

— A secret room holds dangers on “Charmed” (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).

— Hidden secrets revealed on “The Walking Dead” (8 p.m., AMC, TV-MA).

— A new trial is pursued on “The Case Against Adnan Syed” (8 p.m., HBO, TV-14).

— Axe is determined to destroy Taylor on the fourth season premiere of “Billions” (8 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).

— Ulysses pursues a conspiracy theory on “Now Apocalypse” (8 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).

— “Unsung” (8 p.m., TVONE) profiles the Jets.

— Pacific overtures on “Madam Secretary” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).

— Tensions rise on “Good Girls” (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

— Mo’s past is revealed on “Black Monday” (9 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).


— St. Patrick’s Day inspires many traditions. Syfy offers a marathon of “Leprechaun” movies, from “Leprechaun 5: In the Hood” (4 p.m. Saturday, TV-14) to “Leprechaun 2” (8 p.m.). TCM takes the traditional approach, ladling out the Technicolor blarney of director John Ford’s 1952 romance “The Quiet Man” (7 p.m. Sunday, TV-PG).


“Dateline” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) ... “NBA Countdown” (7 p.m., ABC) ... The kids are all right on “MasterChef” (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-PG) ... “48 Hours” (9 p.m., CBS) ... A vintage helping of “Saturday Night Live” (9 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).


A visit from an old friend inspires Miles on “God Friended Me” (7 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) ... Homer can’t leave Bart’s virtual realm on “The Simpsons” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14) ... Empathy for all things on “Bob’s Burgers” (7:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

A walk down the aisle on “NCIS: Los Angeles” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14) ... On two episodes of “Family Guy” (Fox, TV-14), Meg’s winter Olympics (8 p.m.), fighting over a dowager (8:30 p.m., r) ... Aches and pains on “Shark Tank” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

Kevin McDonough can be reached at