A couple of Mother's Days ago, KFC suggested that everyone should "let Colonel Sanders take care of dinner … and Mom's fantasies." The idea was to give her a copy of its first-ever romance novella, 2017’s Tender Wings of Desire, a slim, Victorian-era story that focused on a young woman's passionate relationship with an irresistibly handsome stranger named Harland.
In the book, wealthy Madeline Parker saddled up a horse and rode away from her upper-class parents and the would-be husband they'd chosen for her. She scored a job as a seaside bartender, where she was immediately seduced by this mysterious, goateed stranger. "Madeline had to admit the idea of [sex] scared her," one late-chapter paragraph began. "She had grown up with the understanding that lovemaking was entirely in the hands of her future husband."
That is to say, it was in the grease-slicked hands of one Harland Sanders, because the company wants to make clear that the Colonel fucks.
As part of its now years-long commitment to this cause, KFC followed Tender Wings of Desire with I Love You, Colonel Sanders, a romance simulator where the entire purpose is to score a date with your new chicken daddy. And on Sunday, the chain rounded out its horny Colonel trifecta with A Recipe for Seduction, a mini-Lifetime movie starring Mario Lopez and Mario Lopez's biceps as Sanders.
Although this could be leftover Quibi content, A Recipe for Seduction cuts the Lifetime movie experience down from 90 minutes with commercials to a 16-minute extended commercial. The plot overlaps a bit with Tender Wings, and neither the book nor the film mentions KFC or any of its menu items by name.
That was by design, according to JEAN, the three-person filmmaking collective that both wrote and directed the mini-movie. "Lifetime and [ad agency] Wieden + Kennedy came to us with a seed of an idea…they wanted to do a Lifetime-style movie a-la Mother May I Sleep With Danger, but featuring Harland Sanders in a lead role," Eric Eckelman of JEAN told VICE. "That was kind of it as far as mandates. From there, as great partners do, they really let us run with it and create these characters, the world, the ridiculous love story. It was important to us that we were never too overt with the branding throughout. It would have ruined it."
A Recipe opens with a lavish, if chicken-heavy, meal in an extravagant home, and the main course is followed by a surprise wedding proposal. Jessica Mancera (Justene Alpert) is unsure whether she wants to spend the rest of her life with ultra-rich Billy Garibaldi (Chad Doreck), who looks like the kind of man who has a favorite pair of driving gloves and a favorite racial slur. Jessica's mother, Bunny (Tessa Munro), tells her that she has no choice, because the family is deeply in debt and, unless she wants the poolside dolphin statues to get repossessed, she'd better become Mrs. Garibaldi.
But Jessica has already fallen for her mom's jacked new chef, Harland, because apparently the family's financial struggles are more "You need to enter into a loveless marriage so I don't have to slash my marble budget" than "We can no longer afford full-time household staff." Jessica is all-in for Harland and the "secret recipe" that he can't stop talking about, and Bunny and Billy are both desperate to keep them apart. (Bunny wants to keep Billy around because they've had a steamy "long weekend" that probably involved rosé-fueled missionary and one ruined hotel robe.)
Billy tries to pay Harland off, and writes him a check for $500,000 to go away. When that doesn't work, he ties Harland up and Bunny urges him to stab the chef to death. The plan goes sideways because, despite the try-hard opulence of Jessica's family home, it still has hollow-ass exterior doors, and she hears him calling for help. Harland headbutts Billy, Jessica pushes her mother into a shelf of cleaning products she has clearly never used, and they escape. Fast-forward a year, and Jessica and Harland are married––hopefully he cashed that check before Billy regained consciousness––and Bunny is wearing a pair of greige sweats at a "wellness center" that doesn't look like the voluntary kind. Billy shows up for a visit, and the last line hints at a sequel that should absolutely be called 50 Shades of Gravy.
Although KFC's ongoing sexualization of its Colonel is deeply weird, the fictional Colonels are cleaned up caricatures of the actual Harland Sanders, who was a weapons-grade dick. The real Sanders once pulled a gun on a rival gas station owner––he ran a gas station in the 1930s––and one of Sanders' station managers was killed in the ensuing shootout. He was also an unrepentant womanizer, who felt it was alright if he cheated on his first wife, because she wasn't really into sex after having three kids. (UNDERSTANDABLE).
"Mother refused to accept that she alone could not satisfy Father's physical needs, which from the very beginning of their marriage had seemed excessive to her," his (real) daughter Margaret wrote in her (real) autobiography, The Colonel's Secret: 11 Herbs and A Spicy Daughter. "Neither promiscuous nor a whoremonger, Father nevertheless had a libido which required a healthy, willing partner."
"Colonel Sanders" has always been a sanitized version of the real man. "Colonel Sanders" was the paid spokesperson whose face was on buckets of chicken and who talked in a soft drawl in TV commercials. Harland Sanders hit restaurant workers with his cane, or pushed food to the floor if it didn't meet his expectations, and sued the then-owners of Kentucky Fried Chicken when it protested his efforts to open a Colonel Sanders-themed restaurant.
"Though the Colonel is sometimes cantankerous in private, he is a smooth, charming pro in public—outgoing, warm, funny, never at a loss for words, and patient with the demands of fans," William Whitworth wrote in a New Yorker profile of Sanders in 1970.
Whitworth goes on: "Everywhere he goes, he attracts crowds of housewives who are grateful for all the nights in the kitchen that KFC has spared them. The Colonel will stand by the hour with these women, signing autographs and posing for photographs. He knocks them dead with his flattery, but if you get close enough to him in a crowd you can hear him muttering a running commentary to himself: 'Umm, that gal’s let herself go… Look at the size of that one… I don’t know when I’ve seen so many fat ones… Lord, look at ’em waddle.'”
John Y. Brown, Jr, the former Kentucky governor who bought Kentucky Fried Chicken from Sanders and opened 3,500 restaurants before selling the business for nine figures, told the Courier-Journal that the real Colonel wouldn't have liked how Darrell Hammond played him in more recent commercials. "I don't think you make a gimmick out of somebody," he said in 2015. "I think they are making fun of the colonel. It is such a fascinating story, I hate to see them tarnish it."
Honestly, the real Sanders should be grateful for his recasting as a romantic leading man who can recognize and respect boundaries, and be pleased about the ad campaigns that turned him into a cuddly cartoon instead of a guy with an honorary title who acts like a Grade A ballbag. He'd definitely appreciate the fact that KFC lets him fuck.