The hourlong premiere of Oprah’s eight-part docuseries/exposé on Lindsay Lohan is sponsored, at least in part, by the rehab clinic that Lohan attended up until four days before shooting began for Lindsay. There are at least two commercials for the elite rehab clinic, Cliffside Malibu, during the opening hour, which starts following around Lohan in the aftermath of her sixth rehab stint, in July 2013. It’s an uncomfortable juxtaposition and a little surprising. Why would anyone watching Lindsay on a Sunday night on the Oprah Winfrey Network be in the market for addiction treatment in a “luxury estate setting”? The other advertisements are for cat food.
Cliffside Malibu, like everyone else involved in this endeavor, is engaged in media doublespeak: As Oprah wants to position herself as a concerned commentator who wants to discover the truth about Lohan, Lohan herself wants to look like a beleaguered but rehabilitating actress with some kind of future. And Cliffside Malibu wants the cachet of being a celebrity rehab center while also manifesting how compassionate and effective it is.
All of these entities could be telling the truth, and maybe they are. But the fact that they want to manifest this truth on television—that’s curious. It’s hardly out of the ordinary for Oprah, who especially on her own network is always the voice of reason. And corporations will advertise, as corporations do, in whatever way appears to drive profits.
Lindsay Lohan’s motives are less clear—they are always less clear. The first episode of Lindsay is a foray into the intricate web of self-deceit that makes up her personality. She’s oddly natural in front of the cameras that are filming her life—it’s almost reflexive for her to be on camera. It’s when the cameras are off that she seems to lose her bearings. Perhaps it’s because she’s aware of her image—but more, it seems that being filmed calms her basic anxiety that she is still famous, or important, or talented, or beautiful. Lohan, at this point in time, has no private life that she would want to shield from paparazzi or a filming crew: no personal relationships, no children, no addictions or predelictions that haven’t already been scrutinized by the media.
Lindsay exists entirely just to see whether or not Lindsay Lohan is still a train wreck. To answer questions like, “Why did it get so bad?” and “How does she live with herself?” Lohan has an absurd amount of money, no friends, very little contact with family, and zero trust in another human being. She is superficially adoring of her sister, who is a runway model, and perfunctory with her mother, Dina. She has an entourage of mostly replaceable blonde women who hold her hand occasionally. Hobbies seem to include shopping, sorting through her possessions, and wearing too-pink shades of lipgloss; there is no purpose or direction here, whether that would be in fun, career, or family. Lohan is, depressingly, too empty for any of that.
Which is one way of saying that Lindsay is just making a bad thing worse. The docuseries isn’t doing Lohan herself any favors—all the attention is likely to reinforce her addiction, more than anything—and it’s certainly not providing the viewing public with any new insight on the human condition. Lohan is spoiled and entitled, but she’s also so blatantly pathetic that she doesn’t even inspire the righteous indignation that the Real Housewives franchise does. Lohan is not the first performer to succumb so spectacularly to the pressures of fame from a young age—she lives in horrifying bubble of suffocating artifice that rivals even Michael Jackson’s Neverland. But it implicates the audience, to some degree, that her decline happened right in front of our eyes. On our watch, as it were.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of Lohan’s life is that she knows what she needs to do. She needs to quit drinking. She needs to work. She needs a home. But like many addicts, as soon as she starts, she gets in her own way. She’s too anxious to face the paparazzi, so she can’t go to her AA meeting. She is trying to rent an apartment, but because of her history, the landlord wants a $10 million insurance policy that she can’t afford. (Even Lohan’s fortune has limits.) She wants to restart her career, but going to a press junket in London and then the Venice Film Festival scares her—because she would most likely be tempted to start drinking again. Even when she agrees to a cameo in a friend’s film, she balks and makes a scene, because the “friend” rewrote her cameo into a speaking part. “I’m not an actress turned model,” Lindsay says, as if this is a significant distinction. “My sister is the model in the family.” It’s a diva moment—but it’s not just a diva moment. Lindsay Lohan is terrified of everything—of being taken advantage of, of being downgraded to an “actress-slash-model,” of not being taken seriously. Of her family and friends. Of addiction, and of not being addicted, too. Of herself, probably. And of imminent obscurity.
There’s no doubt that Lohan created most of her problems herself, and though her issues are very real, she at least has the resources at hand that she could afford to find a way out, if she ever found the will to do so. The series’ most fascinating characters, besides its main one, are her personal assistant, Matt, and her sober coach (sent by Cliffside Malibu), Doug. Both men earn their paychecks through not losing their temper. Matt is almost saintly, though he isn’t above laying out the absurdity of his job to the camera, while Doug is so holier-than-thou that he’s largely ineffectual.
It has proved very easy to shame Lohan for who she is. Lindsay offers one bright spot—it makes her not just a caricature of everything that is easy to mock about women in Hollywood, but rather a person with deep-seated flaws and serious issues. All the money in the world isn’t going to make Lindsay Lohan happy, though she still seems to think it might. Lindsay illuminates, mostly, that Lohan’s biggest problem is that she took the celebrity culture she grew up in a little too much to heart.