It seems to me impossible to watch the new reality show, Vanished With Beth Holloway, with its true-crime eerie music and vague foreboding ("What happened to my family could happen at any time and at any place") without feeling disgust.
It's just about impossible, period, to watch the movie that premieres at 8 p.m. Justice for Natalee Holloway is a poorly constructed one-note exercise that features Tracy Pollan as Beth Holloway bouncing hither and yon, never in any gear lower than high dudgeon, seeking answers about her daughter's death.
Like the execrable Nancy Grace, whose TV career soared on the wings of Natalee's disappearance, and Greta van Susteren and Dr. Phil and other masters of TV exploitation too numerous to mention, Lifetime understands the depth of the Natalee Holloway gold mine. Justice is the follow-up to a 2009 movie, Natalee Holloway, that had the highest movie ratings in the network's history up to that time.
It's as shallow as the glass on a mirror, without one whit of inspiration or information. Everybody who knows anything about the case, a large community that will be the only audience for the film, knows that the prime suspect in Natalee's disappearance, Joran van der Sloot, sits in a Peruvian prison awaiting trial in what appears to be an open-and-shut case in the murder of another young woman there last year.
And talk about relentless. After inflicting two hours of this trash on the audience, Lifetime bounces back with Vanished (with Beth Holloway, don't forget) and a first episode that spends its first two-thirds rehashing the Natalee case once again.
The reality show undercuts the movie, showing what a lot of the players really looked like before they were augmented by director Stephen T. Kay and screenwriter Teena Booth. Booth's Amish Grace, about the 2006 massacre of five girls in Lancaster County, last year supplanted the original Holloway movies, which she also wrote, on the Lifetime ratings hit list.
Vanished (with Beth Holloway, did I mention?) eventually turns to the fascinating case of the McStay family, who apparently abandoned the American Dream one night last year and walked over the border into Mexico and oblivion.
It's no different from the millions of other chintzy true-story dramatizations that have filled the TV schedule with tearful relatives and dogged detectives since Robert Stack first emerged from the fog on Unsolved Mysteries in 1987. It can be an addictive, escapist genre, the default for lots of viewers across a wide swath of society when, as the saying goes, there's nothing good on TV.
Except this time, there's Beth Holloway, obviously coached in the moves of TV host but not very good at them, and a plea at the end for anyone who knows anything to contact the tip line.
John Walsh turned to this career after his little boy Adam was murdered 30 years ago. Behind 60 Minutes and 20/20, America's Most Wanted is the longest-running prime-time show in TV history. Lots of criminals have been captured. Lots of people, not me, consider Walsh a hero.
Will they feel the same about Beth Holloway? For poor Natalee's sake, I hope they do.
Justice for Natalee Holloway
8 p.m. Monday on Lifetime
10 p.m. Monday on Lifetime
Contact television critic Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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