Caroline (Penelope Ann Miller), an interior designer, is guided along her path to the dark side by Bethany (Mia Kirshner), a partner in an financial services firm who, unlike Caroline, has no compunctions about bending the rules — and then outright breaking them — in order to do what she deems necessary for her kid.
“I might have found us a savior,” Bethany says.
So it’s Bethany who introduces Caroline to Rick Singer (Michael Shanks, oozing sleaze), a “college admissions consultant” who starts out by counseling kids to crack the books, before suggesting more elaborate schemes — including the “side door” entrance via athletic programs, by paying off college coaches and administrators — that reel in big-money payments from parents.
There are, admittedly, some hilariously campy moments in the early going, such as when Caroline reports that her son’s SAT scores are in the “high 12s,” producing the sort of pained expressions among her wealthy friends normally associated with pharmaceutical ads.
The story really unfolds in two phases, first charting the logistics of the scheme and the FBI stumbling upon it via a separation investigation, and then the downfall — and humiliation — experienced by those who benefited from it.
Still, as the closing crawl reminds us, the tentacles of the Varsity Blues operation reached far and wide, executed in a manner that should make any parent or kid who has sweated out waiting for college acceptance notices irritated or downright angry.
“The College Admissions Scandal” is the kind of modest, quick-turnaround effort that won’t win any prizes; still, in terms of shining a light on that part of the story, it scores a passing grade the old-fashioned way: By earning it.
“The College Admissions Scandal” airs Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime.