In Mykonos, Greece, ancient white buildings lead to pristine white sands which lead to Aegean aquamarine shallows dotted with vacationers in glistening bikinis. It’s a party town, and it looks fun, at least for 20-somethings with high tolerances for ouzo, oily torsos, and techno. Mykonos is the setting for Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club, a 12-part MTV reality series documenting Lindsay Lohan’s foray into hospitality entrepreneurship at her new day club, Lohan Beach House. The show has already produced one joyful meme, a short video of Lohan dancing awkwardly but enthusiastically in a metallic jumpsuit, which inspired the #DoTheLilo challenge. The clip functions as terrific promo material, as it makes the reality show look like a promising romp. Despite its potential for Platonic kitsch, though, Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club is not so fun.
“I’m Lindsay Lohan. I’ve lived my life in the public eye,” the show begins, opening with a montage of fame and infamy in paparazzi images. In a voice-over, Lohan explains that she disappeared from Hollywood as the imagery shifts from tabloid screengrabs to postcard snapshots of Grecian scenery and Lohan lounging on various boats. Viewers meet Lohan’s business partner and sidekick, Panos Spentzos, a sleek Greek sprite fond of fedoras and catty quips. Spentzos and Lohan met in Mykonos and had also previously worked together on a nightclub in Athens, which bears Lohan’s name through a licensing agreement; Spentzos handles the day-to-day for the Mykonos club. Next come the VIP hosts, a group of rowdy Americans flown in to officially “represent the Lohan brand” and, unofficially, to create enough drama to sustain a reality narrative and provide Lohan suitably callow foils to showcase her mother-hen role. The premise: Lohan and Spentzos will mold the hosts into Lohan ambassadors as they build their empire.
The most direct influence for Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club is Vanderpump Rules, the objectively perfect Bravo show about a clique of hot psychos hooking up with each other while ostensibly working in a West Hollywood lounge under Real Housewives icon Lisa Vanderpump. It’s a wisely chosen model. The long arc of Lohan’s career has bent toward mayhem; she went from promising child actor to A-list movie star and pop singer to America’s preeminent celebrity train wreck/leggings designer to failed Oprah rehabilitation project to D-list Euro socialite with a discomfiting fondness for human rights violator and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to whatever it is she is now. At this point, rebranding as Weird Lisa Vanderpump could be a canny move, as Vanderpump has successfully parlayed reality stardom into actual business success, which seems to be Lohan’s main goal. Unfortunately, the show—and, unfortunately, its star—can’t support that kind of reinvention.
The first issue is the VIP hosts, who need to be the engine for spectacle in a show like this but lack the bonkers gaucheness of the Jersey Shore’s lovable meatballs or the sleazy chemistry of Vanderpump’s airheads. Instead, they mostly seem drunk and confused, and the only drama they can generate are tipsy faux pas. Example: Blue-haired Gabi meets Lohan for the first time in a dripping-wet bra, and she refuses to put on a shirt while hijacking the group’s introduction conversation. This makes for a few minutes of moderately cringey television, but Lohan’s unannounced visit seems like an unfair, contrived trick, and Gabi’s penance (dying her hair pink) is boring. Later, club rat Brent is essentially rented out by Spentzos as a cabana boy for a VIP client the first day on the job, which is less entertaining than just plain gross. It’s important to note that the pilot was the only episode made available for review, so perhaps the Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club staff develops a compelling rapport in later episodes. It often takes reality ensembles a while before they jell as a unit.
The second issue with Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club seems far more difficult to fix, because it is Lohan herself. She is currently on a charming media campaign to promote the show, emphasizing how much she has grown as a person since her Hollywood wild-child days and how positive her club and the new show are for her. Lohan had a spectacularly, publicly horrible young adulthood, one in which friends and family members clearly did not prioritize her mental health and well-being. Her substance abuse, legal problems, and career disintegration were the subject of avid voyeuristic curiosity, and her desire to reinvent herself is understandable. Like many other fans, this reviewer is rooting for her. This is why her presence on the show is so dismaying.
Reality television always requires some degree of personal exploitation, as it flattens actual people into characters. Most popular shows—from squeaky-clean competition-based programs like Top Chef and Project Runway to lifestyle juggernauts like Keeping Up With the Kardashians and the Real Housewives franchise—feature people who seem to clearly understand what they have signed up for, and who are comfortable exploiting certain parts of their lives for cameras. Reality TV becomes sordid and unpleasant when it becomes clear that this isn’t the case—when, for example, The Bachelor aired an unedited 30-minute breakup scene, or when Teen Mom existed.
Lohan appears deeply invested in her new show, and it is clearly something she wants to do. She’s confident in the talking-head segments of the first episode, and she makes her best impression talking directly to the camera. “When you meet your boss, don’t show up in a bra, OK? It’s not appropriate,” she says, dryly. In the scene she’s commenting on, however, she appears physically fragile and skittish. Lohan’s curious habit of talking with a geographically unplaceable cadence instead of her native Long Island accent emerges in full force while speaking with her employees; while Lohan has attributed her unusual shift in voice modulation to living abroad, as a former longtime expat, I don’t think her explanation makes much sense, and while the behavior is a harmless affectation, it makes Lohan appear off-kilter. She is never shown drinking alcohol, in stark contrast with her soused employees, which is heartening—but the constant presence of booze and raucous partygoers make Lohan, so publicly in recovery, appear especially vulnerable.
The problem, ultimately, is that it is hard to separate the faux-real world of Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club from actual reality. This past September, Lohan livestreamed herself fighting with a refugee mother of two young children in Russia after she accused the mother of trafficking the children and “ruining Arabic culture.” It is worrisome that someone behaving in this manner is re-entering the spotlight, especially as her initial breakdown was accelerated by media attention. It’s hard to kick back and enjoy the trashy delights of reality TV when the star’s well-being is a concern. No matter how low the stakes are within the universe of the reality show, actual reality can color and complicate its reception. In Lohan’s case, it makes Mykonos look precarious rather than peaceful.