Be Afraid: Lifetime is the Most Brutal Channel on TV

When you think of mature content on television, there are a few usual suspects that spring to mind. HBO is one, thanks to Game of Thrones and a long history of gritty crime dramas. FX is another, thanks to violent movies in the middle of the day and the frequently shocking American Horror Story. Then there's AMC -- remember that time on The Walking Dead when Bob woke up next to a bonfire to find a group of hipsters eating his leg like it was s'mores? Yeah.

Probably the last thing that springs to mind when you think of rampant violence on television is Lifetime, a channel that at one time felt like a supermarket romance novel in visual form. You might be laboring under the idea that that's what Lifetime still is, but I recently discovered how much sheer, gasp-worthy brutality is all over this thing. Based on my recent viewing habits, I am pretty sure there are more graphic descriptions of rape and torture on this channel than any other currently in existence.

For a long time, I went to Lifetime for two things and two things only: Project Runway and Project Runway All Stars, making sure to switch immediately back to my regular viewing habits as soon as Heidi said "Auf wiedersehen!"

That all changed one Thursday night a few weeks ago, after I watched a three-episode block of the newest All Stars season (I was rooting for you, Candace Cuoco!), then promptly went to bed. The next day, when I turned the TV back on, it was still tuned to Lifetime. And before I could grab the remote and change the channel, some dude had appeared on screen describing, in alarming detail, the day he had both of his arms ripped off (completely off!) in a farming accident. "What the hell is this?" I asked my dog, before promptly flopping down on the couch and watching three full hours of the most horrifying and compelling reality show in the history of television, I Survived....

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I Survived... is low budget, simple, and astoundingly well-edited. For the uninitiated, this is a show that typically involves three separate people talking about an accident or attack that almost killed them. These incidents run the gamut from abductions and violent home invasions, to getting attacked by mountain lions or falling into ravines. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is some of the scariest television you will ever watch. Oh, and it should definitely come with about 400 trigger warnings.

Despite the jaw-dropping amount of distress involved, I Survived... ends up being somehow both inspiring and a guidebook of sorts about what to do in the most horrendous life-and-death situations imaginable. For example, here are just some of the handy things the show has taught me: if you get bitten by a rattlesnake, you might want to do some bloodletting; don't touch anyone while they're getting electrocuted; never go into the woods without a knife; and if your house is about to get destroyed by a natural disaster, putting on a bicycle helmet won't hurt.

Astonishingly, I soon discovered that I Survived... had a spin-off about the afterlife. Seriously. I Survived... Beyond and Back follows the same formula as the original, only it features people who literally died, saw some crazy shit, and came back with stories to tell. Hear that everyone? Even if you die, there is hope!

I Survived... Beyond and Back isn't all white light, dead relatives, and bliss (though truthfully, there is a lot of that). One lady described meeting aliens who treat the fate of humans like a board game! Another dude described going to actual hell! And meeting Satan! Needless to say, he was relieved to come back to life. "I was the happiest, fresh-out-of-a-coma man ever," he said, not joking in the least.

My love for I Survived... spiraled fast. I found myself browsing Lifetime's On Demand menu as if it was Shudder. Only I quickly realized that Lifetime movies are infinitely more terrifying than anything in the actual horror genre because almost everything on Lifetime is based on something awful that really happened to someone.

There's Girl in the Box -- the true story of a 20-year-old hitchhiker named Colleen Stan who was kidnapped, tortured, and forced to live as a slave for seven years. Seven!

Then there's Cocaine Godmother, in which Catherine Zeta Jones plays drug kingpin, Griselda Blanco. Jones' portrayal of Blanco is actually, legitimately frightening. At one point (spoiler alert!), she even ruthlessly executes two small children.

I'll remind you again: I am talking about Lifetime.

During one binge, when I saw Corey Feldman's face pop up, I thought "Oh good! This'll lighten the mood!" Nope. Feldman's in-depth interview, Moment of Truth, was, in fact, an incredibly depressing exploration of Hollywood's pedophile problem. This, of course, was followed by A Tale of Two Coreys -- an also-incredibly-depressing dramatized account of Feldman, his BFF Corey Haim, and, again, Hollywood's pedophile problem. Grim.

Even when I tried to watch the cheesy (but unashamedly heteronormative) TV movies Lifetime is so famous for, I noticed an unexpected edge of brutality. The Wrong House is basically a guidebook on how to ruin the lives of other, happier people, and Pregnant at 17 features two women forced to beat a kidnapper about the face and head with a shovel.

Sure, in the end, Lifetime movies are a world in which the problems are enormous but totally solvable; where good people always triumph over evil; and where everyone gets a happily-ever-after... but were they always this crazy?

I'd be lying if I said Lifetime didn't have its fair share of fluff -- the Little Women and Dance Moms franchises spring to mind -- but even those involve an unreasonable amount of yelling and hostility. (Also, the first and last episode of Little Women: Dallas I attempted to watch featured someone getting hit in the face with a serving tray right off the bat...)

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In the end -- and it took a while -- I realized that Lifetime loves talking about the worst things that could conceivably happen to a person -- but only if they make it out alive. The end result is supposed to be a message about the resilience and strength of human beings, in particular women. (Stories about sexual assault are shockingly prevalent.) As a channel, it's an illogical world all of its own, trying its hardest to make you feel better about your own life by showing worst-case brutal scenarios. It's a helluva way to get to the end result, but it sure is effective.

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