When I watch reality shows, I like to take consider all aspects of what goes into the final product. What are the subjects and crew showing? What aren’t they showing? How does editing affect the “story” of the show? Which encounters are “real” and which are scheduled commitments for the purposes of filming? In an age in which consumers complain about the overabundance of reality shows and yet continue to eat them up, viewers are savvy to the lack of actual “reality” of reality series. It’s in this over-saturated, jaded TV age that “Lindsay” serves as a new standard for reality TV. Rather than cutting out the presence of production crews, producers, and directors like most docusoaps, they are front and center on “Lindsay.”
Three episodes in, “Lindsay” is quietly establishing itself as more of a portrait on a troubled celebrity’s recovery — it provides a fascinating glimpse into the drama behind creating a reality show. Just as fraught with tension as any Real Housewives dinner, the process of filming “Lindsay” has become the show itself, and other channels with their repetitive reality formulas should take note. (I’m looking at you, E! and Bravo.)
The premise of “Lindsay” began with Lindsay Lohan’s famous post-rehab interview with Oprah Winfrey last July. Oprah offered her the opportunity to film a docuseries to essentially chronicle her process of rebuilding her life and making a comeback. Lindsay agreed. While not explicitly stating this, it’s evident that Lindsay saw the series as a means to control her narrative and how the public perceives her as a celebrity and actress. That’s not exactly what happens. She repeatedly reneges on previously agreed upon terms with the production company, Pilgrim Films & Television. She has plenty of excuses — plenty — but the show’s creators aren’t going to edit around their difficulties with her. No, they’re going to feature them as the main storyline of the series.
In skirting the responsibilities involved with shooting a docuseries of her life, Lindsay loses the very control of the show’s narrative that she wanted. The series could have happen about her glorious return as a stable, serious actress. Instead, it’s about the tug of war between Lindsay and the show’s creators/production team. It’s astounding the dichotomy between what she wants to put out in the world about herself and how she actually acts.
In one conversation with her health and wellness coach AJ, not to be confused with her sober coach Michael, Lindsay complains that the show was “supposed to something real and gritty and cool and normal.” And yet, she also argues, “I don’t want all the negative shit that’s going on and the stress that might show through on camera because that’s not fair because people only see that and that’s all they know.” Huh? How is not including the “negative shit” in your life part of shooting a “real” reality show?
In the latest episode, Oprah makes her scheduled visit with Lindsay to Dina Lohan’s house in Long Island. While the Dina portion of Oprah’s stay is still to come (Can’t wait!), Oprah has a heart-to-heart with Lindsay. Filled in on the production company’s difficulties with shooting the series, Oprah offers to Lindsay the chance to back out of the commitment. If she’s not ready, then it’s okay to kill the project. Lindsay says something about how filming a documentary is soooo haaard to get used to, but Oprah isn’t having any of it. Recognizing Lindsay as a professional woman who understands business obligations, she tells her to “cut the bullshit.” Unfortunately for Lindsay as an individual attempting to reclaim the public’s perception of her, the “bullshit” doesn’t do her any favors. Fortunately for reality show consumers, “bullshit” makes great TV.
Just as Lindsay stated herself, “Lindsay” is no “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” It’s also not a series-long promotion of the return of a talented actress looking for work. Instead, it’s a paragon for the future of reality TV — rather than hiding the fact that it’s a produced show and not pure reality, it celebrates its fabrication, becoming all the more “real” for it.