As the pandemic dragged on, teens found themselves with empty time.
Some played videogames, did charity work or robbed liquor stores. One sat down with an orthopedic surgeon and wrote “The Bad Seed Returns,” which debuts at 8 p.m. Monday (Sept. 5) on Lifetime.
It helped, perhaps, that the teen (McKenna Grace, 16, shown here) had already starred in “Bad Seed.” And that the surgeon is her father. Still, producer Mark Wolper said, this all came as a surprise:
“A script appears … and I’m like, ‘Oh no, a script from them. It’s gonna be terrible! What am I gonna say to them? … And then I just started reading this script and I couldn’t put it down. I sent it to Lifetime within 10 minutes of finishing reading it.”
Grace was 12 when she starred in the 2018 “Bad Seed” (which reruns at 6 and 10:03 p.m. Monday), rebooting a story that had already been a novel, a play and a 1957 movie. Two years later, the pandemic left her with empty time. “We were just sitting over Covid,” she told the Television Critics Association.. “And we were like, ‘We should write something together.’”
Lifetime had asked if she would act in a sequel to “Bad Seed,” again playing someone with a sweet face and a cruel soul. “We were like, ‘Wait, what if we just wrote a “Bad Seed” sequel?’”
Good idea … except that neither had any experience at it.
“My only background in writing is writing research articles in medicine,” said Dr. Ross Burge, her dad. “I think when I was 13, I used to write vampire novels on my mom’s college typewriter.” Soon, he said, he was “googling ‘How to write dialogue.’ And then McKenna’s like: ‘No, your dialogue’s terrible!’”
And then things became not-terrible. “Bad Seed Returns” creates a potent picture of a dark soul. “She’s so narcissistic,” Burge said, “and she lacks empathy and emotion for others.”
She’s nasty … and could have been more so. In their original script, Wolper said, she “was even darker and worse, so we had to just lighten it a little bit.”
All of this might surprise people who have only seen Grace’s sunniest roles. “When I was little-little, … I was (cast as) the fun little blond girl,” she said. “I was like batty or I was like nice.:
She’s played a genius (which she may well be in real life) in the excellent movie “Gifted” and several episodes of “Young Sheldon”; she was also brainy science student in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” She starred in a Disney series (“Crash & Bernstein”) and guested in “Fuller House” episodes.
Some of that might match her real-life persona. “I’m a very energetic and happy person,” she said.
Her dad – once a teen vampire fan – was an influence. “I’ve always let McKenna watch very appropriate horror movies, since she was a little kid. So we’ve kind of bonded over that.”
One of her first roles was in an “Amityville Horror” sequel, but its release was delayed for four years. By then, she was into a career that included flashback versions of the main characters.
Grace has played the young versions of a vampire (“Vampire Diaries”), a witch (“Sabrina the Teenage Witch”), a superhero (“Captain Marvel”), a young detective (“Scoob”), Tonya Harding and more.
She’s also had other crises, both soapy (“The Young and the Restless”) and intense. In “Handmaid’s Tale,” she received an Emmy nomination as Esther, who was raped often, then poisoned her elderly husband.”I do gravitate toward the darker stuff,” she said.
She working on “Handmaid” in Canada when she and her dad exchanged some of the “Bad Seed Returns” drafts. They’ve continued writing together, whether she’s home or away.
“In the car ride over here, I had my computer out and I was writing,” Grace said. “I get obsessed … Whenever he gets home from work and I’m home, we just both sit at the kitchen table and write.”
They’re working on several scripts now and Grace might be open to being the bad seed again. And no, she’s not ready to see the character reform. “Where’s the fun in that?”