Reality TV Goes to the Tanning Salon
Do you wanna get the Lindsay Lohan?
Sunset Tan (E!, Sundays at 10:30 p.m. ET) is a six-episode reality series of such superlative vapidity that it seems right on the edge of mutating into some toxic new breed of media experience. Its only equal in equating deep tans and wild dementia is Ernest Hemingway's kinky and posthumous Garden of Eden. Consider, if you dare, the early scene in which a woman produces an elementary-school student at the West Hollywood outlet of the eponymous bronzing emporium: "This is my daughter, and she needs to get tan for her school pictures."
A staff member named Nick—"alias: the top salesman"— recommends "the cocktail." He alleges that this is what Lindsay Lohan does: "Do you wanna get the Lindsay Lohan?" The mother prods: "Do you wanna look like Lindsay Lohan?" The child assents and emerges from the cocktail, which is where you do the bed and then you do the spray, with a face that does not at all resemble Lindsay's, with its darling constellations of freckles. Rather, her skin tone is of an insistent orange that split the difference between Christina Aguilera circa "Dirrty" and Mark Green circa last week. This cost $1,300.
As Nick says, "Ka-ching!" The staff and ownership of Sunset Tan are highly stimulated by their proximity to celebrity—"I can't believe Lisa gets to spray Britney Spears!"—despite the fact that one might expect to have just as many run-ins with the rich and famous at the In-N-Out Burger in Westwood. One extended and alarming brush with celebrity features the "olly girls," Holly and Molly, who, with their two heads put together, are still, amazingly, the dumbest person on a staff. Holly and Molly doll themselves up and come into work, unpaid, on their day off, because a star is coming in. That star is Chris Kattan. To his credit, he's disturbed by this behavior.
While Sunset Tan is rife with fodder for those interested in, as they say on campus, issues of gender and sexuality, the dictates of basic sanity are such that I don't wanna get into them. Let us leave it at mentioning the identical-twin bimbos who get their boyfriends' names stenciled on their hips so that the men can tell them apart, and observing that, between the eager vacuity of its female cast members and the slime in the eyes of the men, the show feels as if it could turn into an especially misogynistic deep-throat spectacle at the drop of a Juicy Couture trucker hat.
This moderately misanthropic and mildly depressing show is a portrait of a country so ugly that it plays like anti-American propaganda. Perhaps it will be used, a la Scared Straight, to steer impressionable youths away from the fast-living frenemies to be met in our Godless cities. Never before have I rooted for an endearing provincial to return to provinces, but that's what all decent folk will hope for Erin—that she bolts Sunset Tan and goes straight back home to Bisbee, Okla., where the waving wheat can sure smell sweet when the wind comes right behind the rain. But it says on E!'s Web site that she made assistant manager at the branch in Santa Monica. How may she help you?
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.
Still from Sunset Tan © 2007 E! Entertainment Television Inc. All rights reserved.