Wow, Smarts meet the Bizarro Smarts. And the actors from 'The
Elizabeth Smart Story' look exactly like the people in real
life. And by 'exactly,' we mean 'not at all.' Below, the abductee
and new friends play dress-up.
suffering and made-for-TV melodrama: Were they made for each other?
Sometimes I ponder this and other deep questions as I invariably
waste away lovely Sunday evenings watching TV, also invariably with
a stunning literary achievement tossed aside on the couch next to
me. (“Jesus,” I think to myself, “the least I
could do is listen to NPR and get some dishes done…”)
But I think the answer to this—and most other profound questions
about the nature of humanity—is maybe.
Let me explain: When it comes to Greek tragedy, that shit is just
asking to be bastardized, stuffed with commercials and aired between
reruns of “Joe Millionaire” and that one show where
the guy tried to eat more hot dogs than a grizzly bear.
And had Aristotle thought up the Fox network, it would have been
done centuries ago. Where else do schadenfreude and catharsis lend
themselves so well than network TV?
But when the story involves real human suffering, such as the particularly
horrifying ordeal survived by Elizabeth Smart, well, the first phrase
that comes to mind is: “poor taste.” And a close second
is: “financial exploitation.”
But we’re all sick and tired of people endlessly moralizing
about TV. The fact is, I watched “The Elizabeth Smart Story,”
and chances are good that you did, too. Chances that anyone was
surprised by the handling of this drama are slim to nil.
CBS’s “The Elizabeth Smart Story” was exactly
what we all expected it would be. Robbed as it was of any possibility
for suspense, at times it bordered on boring. But the creepy experience
(possibly even thrill), of watching your hometown portrayed in a
made-for-TV movie more than compensated.
It’s truly weird to watch a movie portrayal of a city strewn
with posters, buttons and newspaper articles so closely approximating
those you encountered for months. You keep doing this mental double-take,
superimposing the real image of real reward posters over the images
on screen and wondering if maybe CBS cast an approximation of you
to walk around in the background of the Salt Lake City set.
This set is a lush jungle of towering greenery that is TV-land Salt
Lake City, as well as the black-and-white moral landscape of after-school
drama. “The Elizabeth Smart Story” portrays the angelic
Smart family’s heroic struggle against attacks on all fronts:
lying media, cynical policemen and ever-encroaching loss of hope.
(I guess my distinction between this and Greek tragedy loses a little
The highlights amid all the moral neatness were little shiny nuggets
of irony, such as the movie’s staging of TV programs, including
“America’s Most Wanted” and “Larry King
Live,” and a distinct jab at Fox News. Shockingly, CBS asserts
that some media corporations were seeking to use the Elizabeth Smart
case solely to boost their ratings!
As I watched, I began to cringe at the movie’s generous smattering
of buttons with TV-land Elizabeth Smart’s face on them, pleading
“Pray For Me” in realistically cheap Photoshop fonts.
According to the movie, Elizabeth very well may have spent the entire
nine-month ordeal listening to Brian David Mitchell strenuously
pray psychotic prayers at her. With one of the worst cases of messiah
complex ever known to America, constantly calling upon Jesus during
his abduction of her, I’d think more prayers would be the
last thing Elizabeth would want.
Perhaps the church bells sounding in the background of the scene
in which Elizabeth is finally found also heralded enough irony to
Although “The Elizabeth Smart Story” constantly treats
its audience to very clear markers of good religion versus evil
religion, all that religion in a movie showcasing the most glaring
image of a crazed and dangerous fundamentalist since post-Sept.
11 Osama bin Laden footage is just too much.
All in all, “The Elizabeth Smart Story” was everything
made-for-TV movies promise to be—and may even be exactly what
people who sit around wasting Sunday evenings in their living rooms
It contained the line, “Do what you feel in your heart!”
And that’s really all Americans ask for—Americans without
cable, that is.