The actress Lindsay Lohan began her movie career by starring, as a child in the late nineties, in the hit Disney movie “The Parent Trap.” Later, as a teen, she appeared in the clever comedy “Mean Girls” and in Robert Altman’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” alongside Meryl Streep. With her winningly plucky manner, seemingly effortless ability to slip into character, and freckled good looks, the Long Island-raised Lohan combined a rare mix of genuine acting skill with box-office bankability: in the mid-aughts, she appeared poised to become one of Hollywood’s most successful young actresses. But after her swift ascent came a slow-motion decline. The winsome child star became a paparazzi-hounded L.A. party girl, and then a faded and troubled starlet whose downward trajectory included multiple D.U.I. arrests and subsequent probation violations, several court-ordered rehab stays, and familial conflict with her media-hungry father. To the sympathetic observer recalling Lohan’s early promise, this fall from grace—largely played out in the public eye, and punctuated periodically by halfhearted stabs at a comeback—has seemed both painful and interminable.
In the past couple of years, Lohan has mostly laid low, living abroad in London, Greece, and Dubai, and emerging only occasionally, in minor if controversial incidents. In late 2017, in the wake of the first allegations against Harvey Weinstein, she stood up for the producer, whom she’d worked with in the past, saying that “he’s never harmed me or done anything to me.” A year later, she streamed herself on Instagram while following a family on a street in Moscow, suggesting first, in an ambiguously accented English peppered with some pseudo-Arabic, that the family members were Syrian refugees whom she was trying to help, and then, suddenly and baselessly, accusing the parents of trafficking the children, before being struck in an ensuing altercation.
Now comes a more major—if, in its way, no less discomfiting—return to the limelight, in the form of an MTV reality-TV show called “Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club,” which premièred on Tuesday. This is not Lohan’s first brush with the genre. In 2014, she was the subject of an Oprah Winfrey-produced series, which purported, in the familiar Oprah manner, to lead the actress to her “next chapter” and a more accountable, healthy, and intentional life—an outcome that, needless to say, failed to materialize. The conceit of “Beach Club” is different. The show presents Lohan as a woman already well into her second act, pursuing a new business venture: an Aegean-side dining and lounging establishment on the Greek island of Mykonos. “I’m Lindsay Lohan,” she narrates as the show’s first episode begins, her speech stiff and halting, as if even her own name is foreign to her lips. “I live my life in the public eye . . . But sometimes you have to stop. So I disappeared.” As images of Lohan, sun-dappled and apparently carefree on a yacht, flash on the screen, her voice-over continues: “Now I want to do things differently. I want to be my own boss.”
In recent years, the figure of the girl boss has emerged as one of mainstream American feminism’s preëminent paradigms. This neoliberal model is mostly decoupled from any notion of community-oriented fellowship between women—and even, sometimes, from feminist ideology itself—and is focussed, instead, on “yaass queen”-style capitalist achievement, often served up in a hyper-feminine package. In the world of reality television, the Kardashian women, with their hard-nosed business sense and ultra-glam aesthetic, are quintessential girl bosses. So is the savvy Lisa Vanderpump, of Bravo’s “Vanderpump Rules,” which follows the dramas of the sometimes horny, often wasted waitstaff at the West Hollywood boîtes she presides over assertively, while draped in diamonds and shod in stilettos.
Lohan’s goal on “Beach Club,” it seems, is to fashion herself in the Vanderpumpian mold. After opening a night spot in Athens with her business partner, a Greek, slick-haired, crabby-faced character introduced only as Panos, the pair have decided to expand their business. “Lohan Beach House,” Panos says—as the camera pans over dozens of entirely regular daybeds, a number of haphazard bamboo cabanas, and a throng of swimsuited beach revellers—will be “the most spectacular place in the world.” The establishment, which includes a bar and a restaurant with beachside service (the official Web site also encourages patrons to book a “relaxing massage” to “melt away your everyday stress”), will be run, Lohan explains, with the help of American “V.I.P. hosts” who will be “ambassadors to the Lohan brand.” This involves soliciting clients to rent cabanas and encouraging them to purchase expensive drinks, or, as Panos clarifies somewhat crudely, “selling selling selling. It’s all about money, so, if you don’t do that shit, you’re out.” Anyone who has watched even a smidge of reality television will grasp immediately that the predictably good-looking ambassadors—surely to be revealed quite quickly as both horny and wasted—will provide the bulk of the show’s drama, as well as its humor. (Watching, I felt strongly that the lady-killer Brent, a darkly handsome V.I.P. host who has been working in Las Vegas and who, as he tells his fellow-employees, does not like blondes but rather “exotic, Middle Eastern, European-type girls,” will be a standout in both respects.) But for Lohan what matters, purportedly, is a strong work ethic and a knack for excellent service. In order to “make it, you have to be the best of the best,” she says, laying down the law. “I won’t settle for anything less.” Comparing herself to President Putin, quite incredibly, she assures Panos that she has “no emotion when it comes to money and business” and is happy to get rid of any host who isn’t ready to work hard. Turning to the camera toward the end of the show, her large dangly earrings swinging about her pale, still very beautiful face, her mouth a lipsticked slash, she snaps her fingers. She has something to tell us viewers at home: “Get ready. Boss bitch!”
It’s not easy, however, to be a boss, and Lohan gives a shaky performance of it. Slender and heavily made up, adorned in jewels and flowing, quasi-Grecian gowns, she flits in and out of scenes of familiar reality-TV-style shenanigans—zero-to-a-hundred interpersonal tensions, much exposed skin, and a gratuitous make-out session—and gives her employees hit-or-miss nuggets of wisdom. “Don’t wear a bra when meeting your boss for the first time,” she explains to a blue-haired party animal named Gabi, after she emerges in her underwear from a tipsy night swim in the pool. “Meditation,” she tells the tall blonde Jules, is like a “religion” to her, and she does it “three times a day” to create “the space that I need.” (“I’ll be watching you very closely,” she then tells the hostess, apropos of seemingly nothing.) The next day, an ambassador named Sara has a tiff at the Beach House with another employee named May (“Use your brain!” the former barks, irate that the latter doesn’t know whom to ask to get ice for a cabana table). Lohan tells a weepy May to come to her if she feels disrespected by any of her peers, promising her, warmly but somewhat unexpectedly, that she will “fuck a motherfucker up.” (In a later scene, the actress grasps unsuccessfully for May’s name when discussing the conflict, settling finally, vaguely, on describing “one of the girls that’s, like, a little unhappy.”) Throughout, there is much abstract talk of the “Lohan brand” and how it must be developed, though what the brand is meant to stand for is never really explained.
The past fifteen years of Lohan’s life have served, in a sense, as an ongoing reality show for the public, and now she claims that she is ready to make others the spectacle. “Just like everyone watches me, I’m watching them,” she says, tetchily, of her rowdy employees. “Camera’s flipped now.” This, however, sounds like wishful thinking; viewers will likely tune in primarily to observe the disconcertingly precarious spectacle of Lohan herself. “I don’t want these kids fucking [the beach club] up for my family and my future,” she says, speaking of her hosts’ drunken antics. “If they fuck up, then that fucks me up, and I can’t have that shit.” To watch “Beach Club” is to sense a real desperation beneath the show’s forced, “Lean In”-style pablum. “Building this brand, it’s about the process,” Lohan explains, during a pep talk–slash–TED talk with her employees. “When you want to present something, and you want to be something, then you’ve got to just, like, work for it, and then you show everyone.” What exactly one ends up showing, however, remains an open question.