YouTube/Lifetime

Mario Lopez in the KFC Lifetime Original Movie has broken me

On Monday, Lifetime made the historic announcement of its “first-ever branded custom mid-form content” in a collaboration with Kentucky Fried Chicken. That is, a 15-minute advertisement called A Recipe For Seduction, airing this Sunday at 12 p.m. and later on the channel’s streaming platforms. It looks like an even soapier, steamier farce than the channel’s typical holiday offerings, and stars Mario Lopez as Sexy Colonel Harland Sanders — which rudely implies the existence of an unsexy Col. Sanders. If the production values look heightened, it’s because this is effectively a prolonged Super Bowl commercial.

The trailer promises a bizarro, psychedelic fever dream, in which Lopez’s Sanders crashes an absurdly wealthy romance, with his secret fried chicken recipe in tow. As the official synopsis puts it, “a young heiress contends with the affections of a suitor handpicked by her mother,” before Sanders emerges to complicate the dynamic. If the trailer’s any indication, it will quickly descend into violent, smutty retaliation, with shadowy basement interrogations and huge sharpened knives.

While last week’s news of Warner’s entire theatrical slate debuting on HBO Max in 2021 might have spelled doom for movie theaters, Recipe feels like the next phase of a long, slow bleed-out for the distinction between sponcon and viral shamelessness. Earlier this year, Ford, Hulu, and Walton Goggins teamed up for some of that branded custom mid-form content with John Bronco, which took an even more of a guerrilla approach to its marketing. Not that any of this is unprecedented, or a break from something like, say, Mac and Me, but it’s increasingly just the way things are going to work now.

Craven product placements have been a part of the film industry for decades on end now, but the entire thing becoming the ad, with a cottage industry beckoning to carry water for the brands...feels slightly worse than earlier iterations. There’s a sort of charm to watching an old Sony film and seeing the obvious Vaio or PSP placements (better yet, when Cameron Diaz’s house in The Holiday has shelves lined with nothing but Sony Pictures DVDs.) It’s harder to imagine the affection for Recipe or John Bronco lasting much beyond a week.

Anyway, if you watch enough Hallmark and Lifetime original movie trailers in a row, the existence of one that’s a bit more salacious and knowingly garish is pleasant enough. It’s hard to take something like this seriously beyond the sort of lingering queasiness in your stomach, so long as enough streaming services don't allow this to spiral into near-permanent nausea.