Can Lindsay Lohan Find Redemption on Reality TV?

Photo: MTV

Between 1998, when Lindsay Lohan gave a prodigious double performance as twins in The Parent Trap, and 2007, when she became so reliably unreliable that major studios all but stopped casting her in movies, she grossed nearly half a billion dollars at the box office. The collective mental image of Lohan is not the actress glowing with one arm confidently akimbo on the red carpet, but portrait gallery’s worth of paparazzi photos of her accruing DUIs, theft charges, probation violations, and rehab stays. In shots of her head lolling back in a gray hoodie, her scarab-green eyes dull and overwhelmed by dilated pupils under police station fluorescents, her teeth like chipped and tea-stained china, her arm twisted behind her back at the wrong angle by her then-fiancé, Lohan seemed to be publicly begging for help. Hangers-on, ranging from employees to immediate family members, seemed to feed on Lohan’s need.

In 2014, Lindsay, Lohan’s post-rehab Oprah Winfrey Network docuseries, was supposed to turn everything around, serving as a commercial for a refurbished, sober-and-ready-to-get-back-to-work movie star. Instead, the disturbing, voyeuristic show documented a troubled recovery and made the case that Lohan was too screwed up to be saved — even by Oprah.

It’s surprising, then, to find Lohan once again seeking redemption on reality TV. The upcoming MTV series Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club showcases Lohan in her new life as a promoter and part-owner of Greek clubs. And instead of chronicling what Lohan no longer is — an A-list star — and her desperation to be that person again, the slick series theoretically encourages you to root for her to succeed in a new way, on her terms, elevating her to the role of confident, put-together mentor/boss to other aspiring club promoters. But given how badly things went last time, is there any hope that exposing herself again is going to do anything but give us more ammunition that Lohan is too broken to fix?

Taped after she left rehab in 2013, the eight-part series Lindsay follows Lohan as she attempts to reach milestones of stability: Understanding how things went wrong. Getting healthy. Making amends. Reviving her career. Finding a place to live. Actually showing up for her obligations.

Photo: © OWN

The premise is that Lohan is able to move forward with her life because she’s finally acknowledging her past difficulty upholding these basic tenets of personhood, at least partially due to her substance abuse. The series begins with an interview with Oprah in which Lohan promises that, starting now, she’s telling the truth. Honest! “Are you an addict?” Oprah asks, testing her. “Yeah,” Lohan unequivocally replies. As the series wears on, Lohan’s brand-new integrity abrades as she insists to increasingly doubtful cast and crew members that she has not been drinking. (She later admits that she has, but blames people who were imbibing around her.) Lohan stops working with an Oprah-appointed life coach, A.J. Johnson, because Johnson tells her on camera that Lohan’s mother said she’d had wine, which Lohan denies. While getting a veneer glued back on during filming, Lohan is administered a cocktail of Valium, Propofol (the anesthesia that killed Michael Jackson), and fentanyl (one of the drugs involved in Lil Peep and Mac Miller’s deaths), which she insists does not affect her sobriety.

Lohan’s unwillingness to reconcile her actions with how people perceive her leads to a disconnect between what she thinks she deserves professionally and where she actually is: on a reality show and definitely no longer auditioning for — never mind booking — the kinds of acting projects she wants. “It’s just so frustrating,” she says about DeVon Franklin, a then–Columbia Pictures executive who is now a Christian movie mogul. “He says, ‘Your name always comes up for every movie because we think you’re the most talented actress there is.’” Life coach Johnson repeatedly, and with unimaginable reserves of patience, explains to Lohan why she is not getting the parts (and money and accolades and sort of attention) she wants: She is not working for it. Lohan parries the feedback, demanding, “Do you think I deserve someone who has that fire and passion?” “I think you deserve to give yourself that fire and passion and then look for help with it,” Johnson responds. “You can’t even say that I deserve that,” Lohan says, betrayed. “I asked you a yes-or-no question.”

Lindsay’s Lohan reveals how hungry she is — for love, for approval, for trust — and how incapable she is of picking the people who can provide it. There’s her wretched, abusive father, Michael, welcomed back whenever an assistant or producer needs to bully Lohan into fulfilling an obligation. There’s her mother, Dina, coasting on her daughter’s fame. (Not to mention downplaying her substance use. When Lohan drinks, she didn’t “relapse.” She “had some wine.”) There are employees, whom Lohan seems to hire at least partly to always have someone around, and who are incompetent or corrupt or driven to quit in frustration.

But unlike Lindsay, Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club doesn’t just sit back and document Lohan. The reality-TV show intervenes, providing a venue for Lohan to interact with people who can’t hurt her. It erects desperately needed boundaries. And it successfully makes the case that Lohan was doing all right before MTV’s cameras came along.

Today, it seems like Lohan has reached a certain, Lohan-specific stasis. She spends much of her time in Dubai, where her family doesn’t live and drinking without a license is illegal for noncitizens and paparazzi are curtailed by strict laws about where photographs can be taken. (Think about it: Have you seen any photos of Lohan in the United Arab Emirates?) When she feels comfortable receiving public attention, Lohan can go to Greece, where she maintains an amorphous ownership role in nightclubs in Athens and Rhodes and co-owns Lohan Beach Club in Mykonos.

On Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club, which premieres January 8, Lohan has nothing to prove. She looks fantastic and has a job that allows her to frequently not be at work and all of the adoration of the kind of people who would go to a club specifically because it’s owned by Lindsay Lohan. When I spoke to MTV’s head of development Lily Neumeyer in November, she agreed that Lohan’s role at the club is best described as “head brand ambassador.” Neumeyer, who is also an executive producer of Beach Club, went on to explain, “She knows her name is on the door, so everything reflects ultimately on her. She makes sure everything from décor to the music is up to her standards.” In a November conversation with Lohan’s business partner Panos, he confirmed that Lohan invested money in the franchise and said, “The whole interior design and the idea of the nightclub was Lindsay’s idea,” though he was compelled to add, “I delivered it.” In Panos, the mononymous Greek club aficionado prone to wearing Blake Lively floppy hats and the kind of round sunglasses that typically indicate blindness, Lohan has improbably found a man she can depend on.

Photo: MTV

Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club’s genesis came in June 2018, when MTV’s VP of talent and series development and Beach Club EP Jessica Zalkin was sent an Instagram post in which Lohan said she was opening a club in Mykonos. Zalkin correctly diagnosed the situation: “This is genius.” Since it was already summer, they knew they would only have weeks to put the series together if they wanted to film that year. They also knew they were dealing with someone who had been less than dependable in the past. A late-night Skype conversation assuaged whatever fears they may have had.

“At, like, three in the morning we got her on Skype,” Zalkin told me. “She was adorable. She had lighting, full makeup. We said, ‘It’s not just about following a docuseries about Lindsay Lohan. It’s really showing a different side of you. We are about lifting people up,’” Zalkin recalled, in what is a fairly generous assessment of a lineup that includes two of the best-ever shows about the depravity of lovable degenerates, Jersey Shore and The Challenge. “And she is like, ‘Done. I want to do it.’ Once we did that interview with her — and to see how enthusiastic she was about the idea of the show and about what she was doing — it was clear to us that she would be committed to this project.” Lohan flew to Mykonos and stayed for the full month of filming. “She was in the club the whole time and working all the time,” Neumeyer told me of the shoot. “She’s so available,” Zalkin added. “Even on days when she didn’t have to shoot with us, she was there. She was just beyond.”

It was during production of Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club that Lohan went viral. In the widely shared footage, she is onstage at the beach club wearing an elegant silky jumpsuit as she steps from side to side, her arms pointing toward Mount Olympus before she bows down and flips her long red hair behind her. The nubile backup dancers behind her are the mentees America will get to know when Beach Club premieres this week. Lohan’s evident confidence and embrace of the warmly teasing hashtag #DoTheLilo felt like a reclamation of her image.

“Everybody has this idea that Lindsay goes out all the time,” Panos, who clearly adores Lohan, told me. “That’s not her. Her normal life standard is staying at home. She cooks this recipe called borscht that is delicious. She introduced the series Pose to me and we watched the whole thing in two days. We’re like family.” But when it comes to business, Panos said, Lohan is still appropriately wary: “It’s true she trusts me, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t keep her eyes on me all the time.” Of course, Panos also added, “And I have my eyes on her all the time.”

This guarded trust extends to Lohan’s interactions with the lower-level cast members on Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club. In conversations about their work at her club, Lohan appears much more secure than when she talks about her acting career, for now limited to a supporting role on the British series Sick Note. By signing on to Beach Club, the brand ambassadors have agreed that Lohan is in charge — her chyron simply reads “LINDSAY LOHAN, BOSS” — and they frequently verbalize their desire to impress her. They’re doing a less lucrative version of her business: going overseas to make money on their own image.

This mixture of ingrained status and club-born common ground allows Lohan to be vulnerable in a place it’s safe to do so: a televised exchange with an employee at a club she owns. “She would relate to the brand ambassadors,” Zalkin said over the phone. “She was very, very honest and open about her past and willing to really shed a lot of layers of herself and empathize with them.” In the first episode of Beach Club, Lohan tells a weeping ambassador, only half-jokingly, that crying is her thing. It’s the kind of confessional repudiation — along with chiding the ambassadors for the kind of partying she admits she’s done — that comes close to making you feel like Lohan is finally reckoning with her own role in what people think of her.

Of course, Lohan’s new world is inherently an artificial one. Panos is the one left running the clubs when Lohan leaves town. The relationships on Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club were constructed by MTV. Lohan Beach Club has shut down for the winter. Lohan has retreated to a billionaire-made oasis where no one can take her photo if she doesn’t want them to.

But we keep Fabergé eggs inside glass cases and put bouquets out of the reach of toddlers. When you’re displaying something precious and fragile, of course you want to protect it. And Lohan finally, once again, has a life she’s proud to show off.

Can Lindsay Lohan Find Redemption on Reality TV?