History is full of profitable losers, but Sarah Palin and her brood have succeeded in making a career out of it, even as their road to success is littered with so many hypocrisies. For all of her talk about "real America," "values," and "family," she's spent a tremendous amount of time trotting hers out in front of television cameras for exposure's sake. As if the family’s previous reality show—Sarah Palin’s Alaska which aired on TLC—wasn’t enough, the world apparently needed more Palin tomfoolery, thus is born a show that seems pretty fitting for the post-Dance Moms timeslot. It’s hard to approach Life’s A Tripp as something separate from the ongoing hell that has been the ongoing Palin Political/Media Blitz of the last four years. Thankfully, though, tonight’s debut, one Palintastic power hour, is a boring, muddled mess that contains a trainwreck moment that brings those two issues together, simultaneously integrating the larger political context as part of the show, highlighting the hypocrisies, and undermining any sympathy the show’s subject might have managed to garner.
Opening with a quick look at Bristol and her life in Alaska and how she wants to raise her young son, Tripp (get it?), as an Alaskan because Alaskans are tough, the show immediately launches into Bristol deciding to leave Alaska to work for a charity. Living in a gigantic mansion. In Los Angeles. It’s a pretty shaky concept in a genre of shaky concepts. So much is made of Bristol’s departure for a short stint there, you wouldn’t think she spent several weeks in Los Angeles as part of a D-list celebrity dancing game show that inspired acts of violence against televisions. Even the goodbye scene between Bristol and best friend/on-again-off-again boyfriend Gino makes Teen Mom look like the most riveting moments of The Wire.
Soon enough it’s off to L.A. with Tripp and Willow in tow. What follows are some MTV Cribs-like establishing shots of the mansion the kids will be staying at, followed by more bumpkinry as the Palin children are completely fascinated by the number of bidets in the house. After a quick interaction between Bristol and Tripp, we’re whisked off to an evening out on the town with visiting friends.
The moment I mention above—the key moment of the entire series, probably, except that gives the show a legitimacy it doesn’t earn or deserve—comes when Bristol and friends are at a bar, drinking and riding a mechanical bull. After Bristol gets thrown off, a heckler yells at Bristol, “Did you ride Levi like that? Your mom’s a whore.” And it’s in this moment that the viewer could possibly feel sympathy for Bristol. Regardless of the motivations behind this show and the sham of a reason for going to L.A. or whatever you think of the Palin family and their politics, it’s a moment that, though not a surprise, crosses a line.
But that’s not the moment I’ve been referring to. No, that moment comes immediately after when Bristol confronts the heckler and tells him he’s a homosexual, “because I can tell you are.” It’s not that the heckler really had a good point; his rant about Sarah Palin being the devil is an eye-roller, and Bristol pushes him on it, and he simply reiterates his insulting hyperbole without giving examples, another sample of pathetic political discourse. She has the chance to prove the guy a nonsense-spewing chump but, instead, takes the bait and makes it far worse.
The incident’s not a surprise—it happened last fall and was widely reported—but in the context of the show, it was a moment that could have shown an adult Bristol, a mature young woman handling adversity (or something akin to adversity in reality show terms). But the outburst of homophobia deflates all the sympathy that the show has tried to build around her, the innocent Alaskan country mouse living in the big city. Granted, most people would have a similar reaction, but most people don’t do so under the glare of reality show lights and cameras; it completely undermines the portrait the show works so hard to paint of Bristol as an underdog against the world. For all her pushing back on the heckler about baseless accusations and nonsense, her knee-jerk, homophobic reaction is no better, only sinking Bristol down to his level.
Without that moment, the show might have scraped by with a D-. Bristol is simply another fame seeker seeking to parlay notoriety (in this case, being the daughter of a lightning rod political figure and being an unwed teen mother) into showbiz success. But that moment sinks the show to the grade it received and shows why it’s impossible to separate Bristol Palin the reality show subject from the context of the Palin family’s political shenanigans and (tortured) time in the spotlight. Not to mention that Bristol has already capitalized on this once before by appearing on Dancing With The Stars, something viewers are painfully reminded of in the second half of the episode when she briefly reunites with dance partner Mark Ballas. While all reality shows are motivated opportunism in its most crass form, this show manages to set a new nadir of insincerity and hypocrisy, as well as just being mind-numbingly boring.
When we finally get to see Bristol at her volunteer job in the last third of the episode, the show tries to paint her as going through an eye-opening revelation, but it falls completely flat, maybe because she tells the other volunteer how she never stays in downtown but rather in Beverly Hills. Later, when Willow bails on Bristol, returning home to Alaska, Bristol responds with a bratty, cringe-inducing lecture about Willow being "flaky" and how badly she needs help. You'd never know a few hours before she was being driven through the harsh reality that is "Skid Row" (a phrase she was unfamiliar with). And it’s hard to buy the authenticity of a lecture when it's coming from a 21-year-old single mother who thought it’d be a great idea to move to California for a few months with her 2-year-old kid.
Of course, it’s not that reality shows are about highlighting likable subjects. Viewers want drama, conflict, and table-flipping, sailor-mouthed tirades. But, for the love of Trig, at least make them interesting. Through one episode, this show is already pushing the upper levels of crocodile tears. Bristol and sister Willow, gallivanting around L.A. in oversized sunglasses, are hard to buy as products of “the real America.” It’s impossible to see them as anything but pale, Alaskan imitators of the Kardashians minus the fashion sense and business savvy. It’s hard to find a reason for the show's existence other than to make liberals hate-watch it. The conflict is limp, the subjects completely unsympathetic and uninteresting, and the concept flimsy. No matter how long Sarah Palin’s political career stretches on, the Palin family’s time as reality show stars can’t come to an end soon enough.
- The catchphrase this show is going to launch: “I’m gonna pray about it.” It’ll be all over t-shirts and bumper stickers.
- They gave the wrong Palin a reality show; I kind of liked Willow’s sassy side even if she was in the show for all of five minutes and she bolts at the end.
- Despite the Teen Mom crack I made earlier, the show’s design really is reminiscent of that show and The Hills.
- I don’t know how much padding Lifetime really needed to do to stretch this to a full hour. Accounting for commercial and overlapping scenes following commercial breaks, there was maybe 15 minutes worth of content.
- The Gawker link embedded above has video of the bar incident.
- Free idea for a future show: Bristol Palin is… The Complainer!
- If you're into politics, Bristol has since put her foot in her mouth again in reference to homosexuality and gay marriage.