In 2004, Lindsay Lohan starred in Mean Girls, the film that made her career and, in retrospect, misdirected it. The movie established Lohan as a talented actress in the traditional sense—a person who appears in scripted entertainments. But she has repeatedly demonstrated that her passion lies with less traditional, unscripted modes of performance. Throughout the 2000s, Lohan perpetually starred in the drama of her own life, developing a reputation for sabotaging herself with unprofessional behavior, extracurricular tabloid antics, and family sturm und drang. At the time, playing a version of oneself was only beginning to be as lucrative and (semi-) respectable as it is now, and so Lohan became widely known as a woman who didn’t live up to her potential, instead of as a woman whose potential had been incorrectly channeled in the first place. She coulda been an A-lister, but she should have been a Kardashian.
But being a Kardashian is work. When Lohan finally starred in her own reality show, OWN’s Lindsay, Oprah had to show up at Lohan’s house after she had barred the cameras from filming her. It turns out that, these days, Lohan is an extremely public figure who is now uncomfortable being a certain kind of public show: the kind that a reality series demands. The result is the halfhearted Lindsay Lohan’s Beach House, in which Lohan tries to star in a reality TV show without touching the thing with a 10-foot pole. The series, which begins airing on MTV on Tuesday and is set at a beach resort co-owned by Lohan on the Greek island of Mykonos, is a theoretically lucrative showcase for Lohan’s shabby-chic, trash-glam, bottle-service persona, but she doesn’t care to do much with it. I had hoped Lohan would at last seize her moment—or at the bare minimum, be entertaining. But Beach House is a bag of Pop Rocks that don’t fizz, a firework that sputters into nothing much. I was disappointed!
Lohan is the series’ title character, but she is not the protagonist. Rather, she is the boss, who swans in with her gravelly tenor—her voice is chain-smoking even when Lohan herself is not—to pass judgment on a passel of young reality TV aspirants. The participants, who all have experience in the hospitality business, are allegedly there to secure a job at Lohan’s resort, but obviously, they are there to become reality TV personalities. Perhaps the cast will come to seem interesting after a few episodes, but if any of them were switched out after the premiere, I wouldn’t notice. Lohan and her business partner Panos Spentzos—who with his matching yellow hat and caftan, outsize ego, and acid asides has a much cannier grasp on how to be a reality star than anyone else assembled—generally stay above the fray, dropping in only to participate in the charade of disciplining employees for doing their real job, which is creating drama.
Though it is airing on MTV, the correct context for understanding Beach House is Bravo, and particularly Vanderpump Rules. That long-running and beloved Bravo series follows the employees at SUR (Sexy Unique Restaurant), an establishment owned by Lisa Vanderpump, who appears on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. As with Vanderpump Rules, all of the work on Beach House—the dramatic bad behavior, the operatic emotions, the bed hopping, the gossipy infighting—is left to the employees, who bicker and smooch and bitch at each other as the gig demands. On Beach House, the cast also does a good deal of sweaty striving: They are constantly threatened with being fired, but not even all that plausibly. Lohan, who keeps halfheartedly playing the B, seems like she would prefer to hang—for like 10 minutes max.
The most interesting thing about Beach House is the extent to which Lohan’s tabloid past is treated as though it were actually a reality show, the equivalent of Lisa Vanderpump’s Real Housewives. With Vanderpump, viewers’ shared understanding of her backstory permits her to pop in and out without delving too deeply into her own personality. Beach House is completely unoriginal and uninspired (though, also, totally watchable), and the only thing that could possibly distinguish it is Lohan herself. But Lohan no longer seems willing to do what a reality star has to be willing to do—live an outsize version of her life on camera. Lohan treats her own show like a club opening: She gets paid just for appearing. She doesn’t even seem to want to act and take on the Trumpian role, which would require her only to behave like a real drama queen for 10 minutes at the end of every episode. (Panos is down, though.) Watching Beach House is like watching someone who insists she has graduated from high school willingly return to high school, where she then behaves like she is too cool for high school. Or maybe it’s more like watching someone who has been hired for a job being totally disinterested in doing that job. In that way, it’s very Lindsay Lohan.