What Are You Watching?: “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles”

The Lizzie Borden Chronicles (2015, Lifetime)

The Lizzie Borden Chronicles

Flipping through channels is a dangerous game. Five times out of six, this digital form of Russian Roulette results in horrible television shows that are so simplistic that you question who on earth is watching something so mindless. At least that’s how I feel when seeing TV show titles like My Kid Ate What? and then being disgusted that it was so popular it got a spin-off: My Dog Ate What? Please kill me now.

With the game of “Remote Roulette” comes, occasionally, a show that catches your eye and makes you wonder, “how is this going to be done?” That is what happened to me the other day when I saw that Lifetime was premiering a new show called The Lizzie Borden Chronicles – yes, this is real life.

The Lizzie Borden Chronicles is an eight episode Lifetime miniseries continuation from, I’m assuming, the 2014 Lifetime Original Movie, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax. Now, I will say I’m all for a strong female lead, as you can probably tell by my previous reviews, and I’ve been intrigued with the Lizzie Borden trials since I was in grade school, but this show is in a whole other world.

The show stars Christina Ricci, who is known for playing Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family remake movies and starring in the former ABC series Pan Am, both of which I’m a fan. This show is somehow a hybrid of modern social norms and an 1890s small town setting – think Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter on the “how accurate is this show” meter.

The show begins with children singing the Lizzie Borden rhyme and informs the viewer that the show is set after the trial of Lizzie, when she is free to walk the streets. Children taunt her and her sister as they try to discuss what they will do since inheriting their father’s debts. The opening is done through flashbacks to the brutal murders of the parents and has a music overlay of modern alternative rock/dark electro-pop somewhere between American Horror Story’s opening credits and Britney Spears’ Blackout album.

The Lizzie Borden Chronicles

Aside from the music, which was catchy but a little distracting from the setting of the show, there were some issues I had with the character of Lizzie. The character is supposed to be a young, thirty-something in the 1890s, but she is riddled with modern feminism. Now, I have nothing against a strong woman, I mean Veronica Mars is my everything and Buffy slays me (pun intended), but the character of Lizzie seems almost like she is far too feminist for the time period of the show. She felt more like a sassy schemer from the plot lines of Gossip Girl. This modernization is further demonstrated when her home is to be inspected by the police and they say she must let them in or they will come back with a search warrant. Interesting, but I’m pretty sure that search warrants weren’t around until the early 1900s, almost a decade after the setting of this story.

If you can cast aside the setting issues and over-modernization, and remember that you are watching the Lifetime network and not the History Channel, you might find the show to be very entertaining, as I did. I found Ricci to be incredibly captivating in her role as Lizzie. She played up the innocence well and yet had a creepy, dark undertone to her persona that made the show very enjoyable.

The costumes in the show were fantastic too. Lizzie was typically done up in beautiful dresses that really seemed to be fantastical and spoke to the character’s motive or feeling. Lizzie wears dark colors, even in church, which speaks to her apparent mourning of her dead parents, but also to the darkness of her character. She was also shown in elaborate dresses that featured big shoulder puffs and tightened waistlines. This alludes to Lizzie owning her femininity as well as, with the shoulders being broader due to the puffs, being more powerful, masculine, and important than her actual frame may suggest.

© Lifetime Network
© Lifetime Network

Something that really enchanted me was the cinematography in the show. It was great, especially for a Lifetime show. I more specifically focused on the way the characters were lit, Lizzie especially. It really played on the idea of polarity and the darkness and light that is entangled within one person.

Finally, I just really want to give credit to the tag lines of the show. I love the way they play with the commonly known elements of the Lizzie Borden case and really capture the attention of the reader, like: “She’s got an ax to grind” or “Condemned but not convicted.” Yes.

Overall, I don’t know how the new miniseries will do in ratings, but if you can cast aside the problems of the show, and remember it’s only going to be eight episodes long (so how bad could it get?), The Lizzie Borden Chronicles might be for you.

— Michael Cotter, Poetry Editor & Blogger

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