Lifetime's 'Stranger' All Too Familiar

A beloved community member and family man commits suicide, only to resurface 10 years later with a new life and love. It's a plot line one would typically dismiss as contrived, only it's true-sort of.

The Lifetime Television movie The Familiar Stranger
carries the dreaded disclaimer about fictionalized characters and places. Apparently, as the filmmakers tweaked the true parts of the story, they managed to drain it of virtually all emotion and character development. The story scans like a rough outline.

The film follows the travails of Elizabeth Welsh (Margaret Colin), a happy upper-middle-class housewife of the 1950s ilk. She raises the kids, feeds her husband and apparently never opens a bill or questions how they can afford their lifestyle. So she's clueless when her college-fundraiser husband, Pat (Jay O. Sanders) comes home one day in tears: His workplace embezzlement scheme has been revealed.

The family starts over, and rather uneasily, with Pat now employed by a local hospital and seemingly untarnished socially. But one day he doesn't come home. A frantic search by Elizabeth uncovers a suicide note at the house.

She's left with no career skills, a mountain of bills and two sons to raise-alone. That struggle itself could have been enlightening.

Did she find strength in her faith or toughness in her genetic make-up? How many times was she told, 'No,' before she talked herself into that magic yes? This story is so flat and formulaic, you just know the plucky broad will find not just a job, but a career.

Colin's saddled with a script that barely allows her to mourn or rage. After a few tears, it's back to her perky resolve. Anyone else would break a few things, or at least wail at the moon.

Even the resurrection plays flat. Ten years pass and the now financially secure, well-adjusted Elizabeth opens a letter from Social Security demanding repayment of $56,000 in survivors' benefits. This would send most adults into a tizzy, but the heroine is allowed a gasp and a "What the hey?"

The betrayed sons, too, are only allowed to be handsome and stoic. Sanders is left with the trying job of creating a man painted as pitiful, not hateful. The resulting two-dimensional performance is the equivalent of picking the white and cream paint chips out of the actor's palette.

Lifetime premeires The Familiar Stranger
March 12 at 9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific times.