'Citizen Rose': TV Review

Image rehab that's well-earned.
1/30/2018

The two-hour premiere of Rose McGowan's new E! docuseries is basically a feature-length documentary about martyrdom and rebirth.

If anybody in Hollywood is entitled, in this particular moment, to an unscripted series dedicated to "Everything you think you know about me is wrong!" image rehabilitation, it's Rose McGowan.

"I didn't get to be me for 17 years," the actress tells her mother at a key point on her E! series Citizen Rose. Indeed, the argument can be convincingly made that every step of McGowan's promising career for many of those years related to and stemmed from her alleged assault at the hands of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, whom she and Citizen Rose refuse to mention by name and who will not be mentioned by name again in this review.

Instead, McGowan's assaulter is called "The Monster" when she discusses him. When his name is mentioned in news footage, the audio is garbled; when it appears in onscreen text, it is blurred; when his image appears, it's with the eyes blacked out. In a series about McGowan reclaiming her humanity, The Monster is consistently dehumanized, which is appropriate.

The two-hour premiere of Citizen Rose is basically a getting-to-know-you feature-length documentary about McGowan, the #MeToo movement and the Rose Army, which she insists only shares her name coincidentally and really is about a combination of flowers and thorns. It's a mixture of hagiography, quirky character study and, at its best, confessional expurgation that would have been neither the best nor worst documentary of a similar type that I saw at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this month. 

That means that Citizen Rose feels more rough and indie and intentionally aesthetically chaotic than polished and E!-friendly, which is a tremendous relief and a frequent source of confusion, given that this show about the corrosive effect of hollow celebrity culture is airing on a network that has played no small role in advancing and perpetuating the hollowest of celebrity culture over the years.

The pilot doesn't necessarily tell us what Citizen Rose is going to be as an ongoing series with its four additional episodes airing later this spring. It's dedicated to tracking the progression of McGowan's identity from a young child raised in the Children of God cult to Hollywood starlet to actress battling a constructed industry perception as being "difficult" or "eccentric" or a "bad girl" to an icon and spokesperson for a movement. It's a laundry list and a litany of bad men and the strong-willed women who confronted them, coming after a fall and winter that also felt like a litany and laundry list.

If I had to point to any one theme of Citizen Rose that resonated most with me, it's that no movement and no movement leader is a monolith, that people contain multitudes of emotions and sometimes they can be in conflict, and that's OK. You can be brave and scared. You can prefer not to be viewed as a victim and yet still miss the idea of embracing victimhood and the hope of recovery it represents. That you can be a flower and be emotionally delicate, but still have thorns and be a warrior.

The series is at its best when people who have risen to prominence in recent months — by taking Hollywood's not-so-secret secrets about sexual harassment and assault public — get to briefly just be people. Ronan Farrow, Amber Tamblyn and Asia Argento appear in the opening episode, and while I could have done with maybe 50 percent less of them telling Rose how important she is, there's an indisputable purpose in them telling her, "You have been heard." It's the same when McGowan meets members of the Rose Army or even accepts the adulation of random strangers when she's out in public. This is somebody who has been a star, who has put herself out there in the most exposed and visible way, being told, "We hear you. We acknowledge you. We're listening to YOU and not the star of Charmed and a few movies that we loved in the '90s." This comes as McGowan is exploring who she even is, sitting down with her mother and her aunt and other loved ones and family members, tracing aspects of her personality and identity to her relationship with her father, as if this documentary were giving her opportunities for catharsis that even the past few months have not.

Part of McGowan's process of self-exposure here is revealing that she actually is eccentric and strange and funny, but maybe not in the ways her reputation has suggested in the media — just in that way that plenty of Hollywood artistic types are weird. She makes odd jokes. She purges her soul to a police officer who clearly doesn't care. She breaks down while speaking about the spies on her trail and the possibility that she may not live to see her mission fulfilled. It sounds kooky and paranoid, but as she puts it, "It's not even paranoid. It's reality." And this Cassandra has been validated enough that it would be foolish not to listen to her, even if there's discomfort in the degree of perhaps hero worship afoot in a series executive produced by E! (and for which the network declined to even provide a "director" for when I inquired). [In lieu of "director," E! emphasizes the creative steering of executive producer Andrea Metz and the contribution of DP Michelle Peerali.]

"Do I make you uncomfortable? Good," McGowan says in one of many Citizen Rose scenes directly confronting or addressing the audience. "You don't know me. But who do you know? The one that was sold to you? The one that you read about?"

The Rose McGowan in Citizen Rose is another constructed version of Rose McGowan, but it's her constructed version, and you'll definitely come away from the pilot thinking she's earned this.

Premieres: Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET/PT (E!)

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