In 2019, Lindsay Lohan is an apocryphal figure. A former child star with a handful of big movies in the late 1990s/early 2000s — the mediocre Parent Trap remake, a popular update to the Freaky Friday franchise and, of course, her magnum opus, Mean Girls — Lohan had an antic personal life that eventually became tabloid fodder and eclipsed her career success. (Now imagine growing up in the same school district together on Long Island, where her existence was elevated to the level of mythos. She wasn’t just a movie star to us, but a fairy tale character you once spotted at the local CVS or heard “had an attitude” from friends at the rival high school. Gossip is everything to Hollywood and freshmen alike.) Years later, Lohan became better known for her arrests, substance abuse and rocky relationships than her string of YA hits, and she mostly disappeared from headlines (aside from defending Harvey Weinstein and getting punched in Russia.)
MTV’s vapid and tedious new reality series Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club is a return to the spotlight for the actress, who admits via stilted voiceover in the pilot — the only episode available for review — that she had a rough few years in show business and purposefully retreated from public life some time ago. Within the last two years, Lohan has launched a trio of nightclubs and beach resorts on various Greek islands, and the conceit here is to follow her and her business partner as they mold a gaggle of vacuous American “brand ambassadors” in how to sell alcohol and status to VIP clientele at her Mykonos destination, Lohan Beach House. As she describes, “Mykonos is the place to be. It’s a place for everyone. It’s beautiful, it’s open-minded and most of all, it’s safe.” Later in the episode, she admits she experienced intimate partner violence years ago on the beach where she opened her business, intentionally selecting the spot to reroute her pain from the memory. Too bad, then, that the show resorts to creeping misogyny at every turn, devolving into a chilling display of female social abuse for entertainment.
The concept for the show practically writes itself (“What happens if we bring a bunch of arrogant hard bodies to an island oasis…and Lindsay Lohan is their boss!”) Which is exactly why it comes off more as a scathing Kroll Show sketch than a meaty unscripted soap. Lohan and her cutting fashionisto of a business partner, Panos, have assembled a group of supposed meat/airheads to entice their affluent guests into spending fat g-stacks, each hire boasting extensive club hosting experience and, well, other experience, too. “I mean, I’ve woken up in celebrities’ beds before,” shares one bro, who thinks this is a brag. These participants, who were clearly all teenagers when Jersey Shore premiered, can’t help but mimic that show’s style of petulant sniping.
If you’re familiar with Lifetime’s cutthroat drama UnReal, which takes place on the set of a Bachelor-like reality show, you will never be able to unsee the artifice of unscripted television ever again. While Beach Club wants us to believe that this group of horny twenty-somethings just happened to get wasted and jump in the pool right before their bosses surprised them for a first-time meet-and-greet, you can practically see the producers working like little elves in the background to ensure some of the women whittled down to their skivvies first. “Gabi, with her tits hanging out, doesn’t know how to dress,” Panos snaps, lacerating a young woman who swam in her bra.
It’s sad to hear Lohan’s ex abused her, but her tears have little resonance on a show that runs on degrading women. Misogyny is an insidious engine, and there’s an unsettling quality to any show that uses it so blatantly to amuse. Villain archetype Brent, all insecure braggadocio, is key to this, with quotes about his female co-workers like, ” I just don’t believe anything she’s done. She’s just an idiot, man,” and “She’s like the energizer bunny, she doesn’t stop talking.” Panos and Lohan, too, play into this dynamic, piling on Gabi for the crime of wearing only a bra during their post-swim pow-wow. “This is not Girls Gone Wild,” Lohan admonishes. No, it’s not, so why is your team so intent on imitating it? It’s easy to dismiss a show like this as cheap trash, but it’s worse than that: It’s gendered malice peddled as fun in the sun.
Even worse for a show set in paradise — it’s ugly. Visually ugly, the fuzzy camera unable to capture the lusciousness of the seaside or the tranquility of Mediterranean architecture. Lohan, at least, comes off as emotionally intelligent with her staff, her deep, flinty voice and confident HBIC aura a welcome break from the participants’ acrid attention-seeking. The show wants to look like Insta come to life, but all you can see are a bunch of narcissists faking their selfies.
Executive producers: Gil Goldschein, Julie Pizzi, Farnaz Farjam Andrea Metz, Lily Neumeyer, Jessica Zalkind, Ben Hurvitz
Premieres: Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET (MTV)