CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story had its grand television premiere last night on VH1, and we haven’t stopped humming “Red Light Special” since! The TLC biopic has got us thinking about other awesome bands that were brought to life on the small screen. Will CrazySexyCool join the pantheon of these 10 classic made-for-TV music biopics? Only time will tell, but we sure think so!
10. Madonna: Innocence Lost (1994)
OK, OK, lead actress Terumi Matthews looks way more like Gloria Estefan than the Material Girl. But that’s pretty much our biggest (and only) complaint about this mid ’90s TV special depicting Madonna’s early years in New York, where she famously arrived with just $37 and a dream. Showing Ms. Ciccone’s transition from “good Catholic girl” to the author of Sex, he movie brings the music and the drama, although it also makes her out to be a laughably huge B at points. Filled with gems like “This belly button is going to make us a fortune,” the film as earned a cult following over the years.
9. And The Beat Goes On: The Sonny and Cher Story (1999)
Taken from the pages of Sonny Bono’s autobiography in the wake of his tragic skiing accident, the ’60s-tinged flick features an extremely crushable Renee Faia as a young Cherilyn LaPierre Sarkisian (AKA Cher). While divulging some minor scandalous content -Cher was just 16 when she moved in with the 28-year-old Bono- the movie is decidedly (and obviously) Sonny-slanted, painting him as the sole creator of their hit-making musical legacy, and slightly vilifying Cher over the course of their tumultuous marriage and bitter divorce. The drama can seem a tad manufactured, but hey; it’s damn entertaining.
8. Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story (2001)
Part of VH1’s own “Movies That Rock” series, this biopic brings the bygone days of hair metal back to the small screen with these British bad boys. Chronicling the band’s beginnings, through to Rick Allen’s car accident and the recording of their blockbuster Hysteria, the flick also features Anthony Michael Hall as legendary producer Mutt Lange.
7. Growing Up Brady (2000)
Where else can you watch a pre-OC Adam Brody and a pre-Big Bang Theory Kaley Cuoco as Greg and Marsha Brady, fighting the urges to make-out despite the fact that they’re supposed to be brother and sister? Based on real-life Brady Bunch star Barry Williams’s 1992 autobiography, the biopic depicts the (semi) naughty behind the scenes hijinks behind the scenes of the shag-carpetted sitcom. The scene where 16-year-old Barry asks his TV mom Florence Henderson out on a date is worth the price of admission!
6. Too Legit: The MC Hammer Story (2001)
Romany Malco plays the parachute-wearing rap pioneer in this VH1 biopic, a true rags-to-riches-and-back-to-rags story beginning with the rapper as a impoverished youth in the slums of Oakland, working as a bat-boy for the Athletics baseball team. He went on to become the highest selling artist in hip-hop with hits like “U Can’t Touch This” in constant rotation, and a personal fortune estimated at $30 million. He even had a dishwasher installed in his bedroom to clean up his midnight snacks! But within five years it was all gone. Even though the real-life Hammer has a production credit, the film gives an honest and interesting portrayal of a man with faults.
5. Celine (1998)
You guys, there’s a Celine Dion biopic. WTF. Why are we not all talking about this?! Drop whatever you’re doing and watch the full film right now.
4. The Temptations (1998)
Produced by Temp baritone Otis Williams, this Emmy-award winning four-hour series also got a hand from leading Motown executive Suzanne de Passe, who cut her miniseries teeth on the incredible Jacksons film (see Entry #1). A quintessential tale of infighting among a band of childhood friends ripped apart by sudden fame, the film went on to become one of the highest rated television events of the year. Choc full of tales from early Motown, the drama is matched only by the killer soundtrack and flawless dance moves.
3. The Beach Boys: An American Family (2000)
Folks who think that the Beach Boys were merely fun in the sun will have their minds blown when they watch this two-part biopic produced by John Stamos (yes, that’s Uncle Jesse). The Wilson brothers (along with their cousin Mike Love, and school friend Al Jardine) lived a true rock ’n’ roll myth, rife with violence, drugs, mental illness, and even run-ins with mass murderer Charles Manson! Seriously, the only thing that comes close to their musical legacy is their personal story. Several miniseries have chronicled the band’s career over the years, but this one is (in our opinion) the best. At least if you can look past the fairly shabby treatment of the group’s resident genius, Brian Wilson…
2. The Karen Carpenter Story (1989)
Obviously the biggest heart-breaker on this list belongs to the tragic story of Karen Carpenter’s losing battle with anorexia. Despite the sunny exterior and gorgeous melodies, the Carpenters had significantly darker private lives, with brother Richard also hiding a serious addiction to sleeping pills. Although a little overblown and Lifetime-like at points, the movie is packed with drama and powerful performances, especially from Cynthia Gibb, who completely embodied pop’s sweetest front woman. The film was extremely well received, and did much to raise awareness about the dangers of eating disorders.
1. The Jacksons: An American Dream (1992)
Produced by Motown honcho Suzanne de Passe and made with the blessing of the Jackson family, this five hour epic is like a rock ’n’ roll Roots. Vividly retelling the Jackson family’s rise to musical super stardom in the late sixties all the way through to Michael’s Thriller-era solo success, the star studded cast boasted Vanessa Williams, Angela Bassett and Terence Howard. Audiences went nuts for the production, which became one of the most popular miniseries of the ’90s (and there were a LOT of those around at the time), and earned an Emmy. To this day, it’s considered the gold standard by which made-for-TV music biopics are judged.
Two Of Us (2000)
Not technically a biopic, this gentle stage play-like film offers a fictional account of a real life meeting between John Lennon (played by Mad Men’s Jared Harris) and Paul McCartney at Lennon’s New York City apartment in 1976, six years after the Beatles’ acrimonious breakup. Expertly written with warmth and accuracy, it shows the conflicted inner workings of the 20th century’s greatest artistic partnership, and teases us with a tantalizingly close musical reunion.