Tuesday, March 18, 2014

I'm watching Lindsay Lohan's reality show and that's probably not OK

Posted By on 03.18.14 at 02:55 PM

Lindsay Lohan lands a role—as herself.
  • OWN
  • Lindsay Lohan lands a role—as herself.
A few years ago (more than a few now, I guess) there was a not-terribly-successful show on HBO called The Comeback. On it Lisa Kudrow plays Valerie Cherish, a shrill, washed-up sitcom star who becomes the subject of a reality show that follows her return to television, this time as a wacky, aging aunt figure to a cast of young hotties on a painfully unfunny sitcom. The reality show within the show is called The Comeback, and Valerie treats it like a thing that will facilitate her return to fame more so than a thing that's intended to document it. The crew wouldn't appear to care one way or another, so long as vaguely embarrassing and sad things continue to happen to their earnest-to-a-fault subject along the way. A tidy rise to the top wouldn't make for much of a show. Watching Valerie struggle? Now that's entertainment. And it's OK if we're entertained by it.

It's a weird coincidence that I was in the middle of watching The Comeback (the first and only season is available on HBO Go) when Lindsay, Lindsay Lohan's new reality show, premiered. At the time filming began, Lohan was fresh out of rehab and ready to redeem her public persona. If you've ever seen a reality show, I'm sure I don't have to explain all the ways in which that's a cockamamie idea. The only reason it probably didn't seem completely insane to Lohan and her handlers—what handlers remain—is that the show is being lent legitimacy by the benevolent mother to us all, Oprah Winfrey. That and the fact that Lohan doesn't have a whole lot to lose careerwise.

The series begins with the two women having a sit-down about what each hopes the show accomplishes: Lohan wants the world to see her truth and—she doesn't say this outright, but if all goes well—sympathize with her, and Winfrey wants what Lohan wants. Lohan can proceed comforted by the knowledge that Winfrey truly wants her to succeed and the show is a function of that. Now, I don't doubt that Oprah does want joy and sobriety and success for Lohan, but she's also a businesswoman with a network only Tyler Perry watches. Even if Lindsay ends well, the ride is going to be bumpy, and Oprah and OWN are beneficiaries of that.

But it wouldn't be fair to call Oprah's motives into question without reflecting on our motives for watching. Is it OK if we're being entertained by Lohan's struggle? Probably not, but I'm not sure that'll stop anyone (i.e., me) from watching.

To state the obvious, Lohan is very much a product of her environment, a case study in the personality disorders fame can cause. As part of her self-prescribed recovery process, Lohan has moved back to New York to be closer to her family (which, based on what we know about her shitty parents, is misguided). For several weeks she's been living in a hotel. It's not an ideal arrangement, but she has a personal assistant and a sycophant of a "sober coach" by her side almost constantly to ease the discomfort. In the first episode she and her posse and a high-dollar apartment broker are out looking at more-permanent lodging when Lindsay decides she needs to change her clothes. They stop by a friend's boutique and Lindsay plays fashion show until the broker comes in and tells her they really need to keep moving. He's been waiting outside the entire time; there's no indication she realizes she's being fucking rude.

If a reality show was a risky prospect for Lohan, it was even riskier for the producers. By episode two, Lohan's reluctance to cooperate with the crew begins to rear its head, and that gives us a glimpse into the weird, manipulative, sorta gross nature of reality TV. Lohan finds an apartment and is preparing to move in when the emotional impact of a family crisis—her mom got a DUI, duh—keeps her bedridden past three in the afternoon. She won't come out to be filmed and won't allow the cameras into her room. Next thing you know, there's a problem with the apartment because several deposit checks went missing. Well, they didn't go missing, the show's producers had taken the checks back from the broker when it became unclear whether Lohan would cooperate with the filming schedule. She could only afford the swanky SoHo apartment we'd seen her mooning over because she was given an advance for future episodes. If they spot her the money, they get something to shoot other than her sitting around and smoking cigarettes in a hotel room (and she smokes a shitload of cigarettes). The narrative is propelled. "I feel like I'm being blackmailed," Lohan says, because she sort of is. Once the money reappears, Lohan's enthusiasm for the show is miraculously rejuvenated.

A preview for the rest of the season promises that the dramatics are only temporarily on hold. Oprah returns to assure Lindsay she has the starlet's best interest at heart. "I want you to win," Oprah tells her. Win? But it's not a game. Nor is it an HBO show about a reality show. It's this woman's weird life, and I can't avert my eyes.

Lindsay is on OWN Sundays at 9 PM.

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