TV Preview

'Countdown to Lockdown': Lil' Kim's Guilty Pleasure

By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 9, 2006

Lil' Kim is going to prison. Well, at this writing, Lil' Kim is actually in prison, thanks to a run-in with the feds over a little matter called the truth. ( Perjury , people, tsk, tsk.) But in the unreal world of reality TV, where life is condensed, expanded and stage-managed into a neat narrative arc, time moves forward, backward and sideways at will. So, for the purposes of her BET docudrama premiering tonight at 9:30, Queen Bee's on the "Countdown to Lockdown."

Which makes for compelling television. If, that is, you don't mind the whole minstrelesque vibe of it all.

Going to maximum-security prison for a year is, of course, a very, very bad thing, and everyone in Kim's six-episode series takes pains to emphasize this -- while proclaiming her innocence. Lil' Kim's mom announces that she's "been carrying around a lot of pain." Her cousin La La, a platinum-weaved, blue-contacted Lil' Kim Mini-Me, moves in to lend support, leaving behind husband and kids. (This proves to be a bad move in Episode 2, when we learn Hubby's none too happy with La La's exodus.) Then there's Lil' Kim herself, who declares, while cruising in her limo, "I have to get my life together."

Because while going to prison is, as the 30-year-old rapper says, "[expletive], knawha'mean ?," it also makes for an excellent marketing opportunity: "Hopefully, my music'll be even more appreciated. . . . I want my sales to be huge in the first week."

In her 14 days of counting down to lockdown, she's got a new CD ("The Naked Truth," which came out in September, eight days after she went to jail for lying to a grand jury about a shootout involving her posse) to promote. There are music videos to shoot. Fans to woo. Radio interviews to conduct. Fashion shows to attend. Tempers to tantrum.

And therein lies the dramatic tension of "Countdown": Can Lil' Kim maintain control while wrestling her numerous minions, managers and addled assistants into submission in her time-crunched quest to maximize her buzz? Will she be able to reshoot "Lighters Up," because the current version of the video makes her want to "throw up"? Will she find a video director who knows how to shoot her so that she looks beautiful? ("I have to be shot in a certain light. I'm a chameleon. My looks change.") Will she still be, as she raps, the "biggest sex symbol since Janet" once she strips away the waist-length weave and the blue contacts?

That is something we'll have to wait to see in later episodes (we were only provided Episodes 1 and 2). Press materials, however, promise that Lil' Kim will begin "the physical transformation to becoming Kimberly Jones -- peeling off the layers of hair extensions, acrylic nails and stage makeup."

Lil' Kim peeling off layers of paint makes for must-see TV.

After all, she's a pop culture Rorschach blot, with that surgically engineered kewpie-doll face, the store-bought 36-Ds, the boasts about her sexual exploits with a Sprite can. Is she an ironic statement of female pulchritude? Or just a black Barbie doll, exploiting crude stereotypes of African American sexuality?

Her first episode opens with a declaration:

"My name is Kimberly 'Lil' Kim' Jones," she announces, apparently at a news conference, an actress reciting her lines, flashbulbs popping. "And I am innocent. . . . Throughout my life and my whole entire career, I've been a survivor. Anybody who knows Lil' Kim knows that I have handled some obstacles."

The largest obstacle, of course -- after the murder of her lover-mentor, the Notorious B.I.G. -- is her impending incarceration. But in Kim's life, there are lots of little obstacles to overcome, from navigating nosy journalists to navigating nosy male fans at public appearances who want to know how she's going to, you know, protect herself from the "stocky" prisoners once she's inside.

Helping her -- and serving as a hip-hop Greek chorus -- are manager Hillary, a tough-as-nails industry veteran not above letting loose with four- and 12-letter words; Gene, the A&R guy, a screamer who admiringly describes Kim as "a dirty Reebok"; Kirk, the novice music video director who's got no patience for her marathon primping sessions; Nate, the personal assistant who turns all goofy grins when he has to ask Kim's "chest size," the better to order a cat suit for a video.

These are rude and garrulous people, quick with the cuss-out and adept with the dual-phone technique, cell glued to one ear, landline on the other, working-class folks who've caught a glimpse of the good life and intend to hang on. Somehow, cast against this colorful crew, Kim comes across as the sane one, the puppeteer yanking the strings as she manages the surreal landscape of her life.

Lil' Kim: Countdown to Lockdown (30 minutes) premieres tonight at 9:30 on BET.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company