“I’m not Oprah,” Lindsay Lohan yelled into a cell phone in the first episode of her new show on OWN. From the trailer that came out last week, it seemed like the show wanted nothing more than to highlight the difference between those two: Oprah is the good influence on Lindsay, who is a bad influence on herself.
The first episode of the series didn’t show the real conflict between the woman responsible for the docu-series and its subject—that’s being saved for later episodes, we guess—instead the episode was about Lindsay’s big move to New York City after her latest stint in rehab. So we got scenes of Lindsay packing up her stuff at an L.A. storage facility; Lindsay driving around looking at apartments, stopping at her friend's store for a change of clothes; Lindsay dropping her stuff, which includes a Mean Girls “fetch” t-shirt, off at her mom’s house. We know who the villains are here: the paparazzi, the Los Angeles lifestyle, Lindsay's own persistent demons.
In the beginning of the episode, everything was mostly happy-go-lucky. Lindsay seemed intent on recovering, and her personal assistant explained how much he believed in her. It was only at the end that we began to see the whole operation unravel. Lindsay couldn’t make it to an AA meeting because of the paparazzi; Lindsay dropped out of a shoot involving lingerie models; Lindsay still hadn't found an apartment. The show couldn't help but veer from mundane to trashy-tragic as Lindsay pouted and tears swelled in her eyes.
That “I’m not Oprah” line stuck out, though, because something about it felt so planned, so performative, even though Lohan was in a heated argument with a real estate broker. No, she’s not Oprah, but she is on a show on Oprah’s network. Of course the line would make the final cut. This uneasy sense that Lindsay—like the best reality stars before her—is acting for the cameras popped up elsewhere too. When Lindsay was at Dina Lohan’s house unpacking, she read aloud a passage from her journal from one of her stints in the Betty Ford Clinic. She was opening up and sharing, but a viewer couldn't help but feel like a voyeur.
When the trailer for the rest of the season aired near the end of the program, it was clear the direction in which this show is headed. Lindsay—performing, or perhaps losing her ability to perform—will spiral downward. Oprah will hopefully prop her back up. That's a good arc for a TV show, but then you realize you're dealing with someone's fragile life.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.