Living Lohan is one big exploitative mess.

What you're watching.
May 23 2008 5:52 PM

Don't Mess With the Lohan

E!'s Living Lohan stars Lindsay's kid sister. Leave her alone!

Ali Lohan. Click image to expand.
Ali Lohan

The most significant problem with the premiere episode of Denise Richards: It's Complicated (E!, Mondays at 10 p.m. ET) is that it hits its peak too early. In her big scene, Richards—an actress who first soared to prominence in John McNaughton's Wild Things (a film noir alternately reminiscent of a James M. Cain novel and a wet-T-shirt contest), only to prove unconvincing as a nuclear scientist opposite Pierce Brosnan's James Bond—goes to the DMV to remove the name of her ex-husband (Sheen) from her driver's license. There is a problem with the paperwork. Richards keeps appealing to higher and higher tiers of management, as if she were dealing with a room-service hassle at Shutters, and the managers keep explaining that she literally has to tell it to the judge. Her exasperation was perfect, and her marriage has literally become material for farce. Brava!

Otherwise, It's Complicated is very much like everything else belched up by the genre that we must call, not without shuddering twice, celebreality, with its themes of domesticity and dating, its mundane happenings and nonhappenings—the pornography of everyday life. It's fundamentally gross, of course, but the apparatus of contemporary media and marketing is such that life and love are treated more as commodities every day—you might try asking Tila Tequila about that or Emily Gould—and Richards' show is just another indicator of the broader cultural decadence. No privacy, no decency; no surprise. Living Lohan(E!, Mondays at 10:30 p.m. ET), however, is not just a symptom of cultural decay but an active agent of it, commodifying the very youth and soul of Ali Lohan—younger sister of poor little Lindsay. It's part of a package deal with a Las Vegas casino and a Sacramento basketball team, actually, with Variety reporting that the Maloof Prods, co-producers of the show, will use it to showcase other holdings, including a recording studio at the Palms.

Ali, 14, is a lanky brunette with a cute beaky nose and an affection for hoodies—a starlet's little sister in the Ashlee Simpson mold. She wants to be a singer but, in the first episode, disdains the lame tracks that the label keeps sending over. She hopes to hit it off with a "producer" named Jeremy, an obvious punk who needs tighter beats and also to pull up his pants. "I can really trust him," the girl says. The episode ends in a cliffhanger as Jeremy is called to account for the fact that his hometown paper caught him insinuating that he was hooking up with Lindsay. Note to Ali: You can't trust anyone, doll face. Get used to it.

Ali lives in North Merrick, Long Island, N.Y., with her younger brother, whose dreams of glamour seem to start and end with soccer practice, and their mom, Dina, identified as a "mother manager." As a mother, Dina is a pretty good manager. Given how Lindsay has turned out—just barely employable, overly fond of the wrong kind of attention—I don't quite understand how it is that this show does not constitute child abuse by its very existence, and yet I cannot deny that Dina Lohan's parenting skills are superficially OK. We see her teaching Ali to stay true to herself, and she has yet to exhibit either sad permissiveness or pushy stage-mothering on-air. The main signal of how out of whack things must be in the Lohan household is the avidity with which she flips through tabloid magazines in search of items about Lindsay. Dina's French-manicured nails fairly rip at the glossy pages. The show is crisply edited and tangily ironic without pushing its points too hard. The producers let pass, without comment or sound effect, Ali's mission statement: "Lindsay's my role model." Note to Ali: Reconsider.

The brilliance of Mean Girls no longer comes to mind when we think about Lindsay. If she died tomorrow—not entirely impossible, I'm afraid, given her chronic battle with "exhaustion"—she will best remembered as a vividly shameless photo subject. Lindsay spreading her bare legs atop a bare mattress for Terry Richardson, rolling around in photos of herself. Lindsay doing a near-necrophiliac re-creation of Marilyn's last sitting with Bert Stern (a coral-pink, pale gold sunset) for New York. Lindsay playing with a knife in a leaked party photo. Lindsay blowing out of 1Oak in a freshly stolen fur that looked absolutely fabulous with her highlights. Click, click, click, snap.

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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