As you might assume, being Bristol Palin means a life of continued anguish and suffering. In her somnolent Lifetime reality show, “Bristol Palin: Life’s a Tripp,” which premieres Tuesday night, we keep hearing about the painful glare of media attention that snapped on nearly four years ago when her values-preaching mother, Sarah Palin, ran for vice president on the Republican ticket just at the time a teenage Bristol was pregnant with a son. That glare never ended, mostly because Bristol keeps reaching to turn the switch back on.
“Even though it seemed like the media was trying to tear me down,” she proclaims, “my faith, my family and my friends held me up.”
Where others might have had the option of part-time work, child rearing and community college, Bristol Palin was apparently forced to go toward the paparazzi’s light. There was “Dancing With the Stars” to compete in and the covers of magazines to appear on and a memoir to publish (which the young Palin claims was a bestseller; 15,000 copies sold so far, according to Nielsen BookScan) about the struggles of a young, single mom.
At 21, Bristol decides, for no clear reason (besides footage), to leave Wasilla, Alaska, once more for another taste of life in Hollyweird, taking her adorably cherubic toddler son, Tripp, with her. Her intent is to volunteer at a religious-based charity called Help the Children. When she gets there, a worker gives her a Help the Children polo shirt and takes her on a tour of L.A.’s skid row, where Palin makes a lethargic attempt to appear even remotely interested. The charity work being done here is bizarrely inverse, in which a needy child of our political culture wars is helped by Help the Children to get airtime.
“Life’s a Tripp” stumbles blindly over the ghostly rubble and ruined format of what was once commonly known as a reality show: There are sport utility vehicles in which to ride; boutiques in which to shop; Starbuckses in which to argue. There are microphone packs clipped to waistlines and bra straps. There are staged conversations during which one idly examines one’s split ends while the other person is talking. There is the furnished Beverly Hills mansion, redolent in its “Bachelorette” and Simpson-Lachey decor, smelling faintly of failed enterprises, pool chlorine and compromised souls.
Bristol browbeats her teenage sister, the deeply sullen Willow, into moving to L.A. to babysit Tripp. Willow becomes even more unhappy (or pretends to become more unhappy) and threatens to go back to Alaska. “Willow doesn’t get it,” Bristol observes. “Willow doesn’t have kids. Willow doesn’t have responsibilities.”
For a night off (a night off from nothing), Bristol and some friends head to a juke joint in West Hollywood, where she is thrown off a mechanical bull. “Did you ride Levi like that?” a patron at the bar shouts. “Your mother’s a whore!”
As anyone who was near the Internet when this interaction occurred 10 months ago knows, Bristol engaged in a pointless debate with the man, asking him for examples of why he dislikes her mother, and then snaps at him: “Is this because you’re a homosexual?”
It ends with Bristol weeping in the parking lot. Between sobs, she existentially wonders why she can’t escape the constant attention, criticism and sniping. The answer (to pull the plug on the hype machine) truly eludes her. Even if you have a lasting grudge against all things Palin, there’s no payoff here. It’s a new low for anyone who makes the mistake of watching.
(two 30-minute episodes) premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. on Lifetime.