When you hear “Lindsay Lohan” and “reality show” in the same sentence, another word that might come to mind is “disaster.” The troubled actress, known for her many legal entanglements and controversies, attempted a docuseries with Oprah Winfrey in 2014 — it did not go well. She’s also infamous for causing problems on sets; one director once likened it to being held hostage.
However, we can inform you: “Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club,” which debuted on MTV Tuesday night, is actually not a disaster. Centered on the launch of Lohan’s new club in Mykonos, Greece, it’s a fairly standard — and unremarkable — entry into the “underlings work for a celebrity boss” genre of reality TV (see: “Vanderpump Rules”).
Still, the show is a deeply sad viewing experience. Just not for the reasons you might expect.
The messaging surrounding the series could not be more direct. Lohan, extremely aware of her reputation, wants you to know: Her troubles are behind her. She has reinvented herself as an entrepreneur with a brand to protect, and if you’re not as deadly serious as she is about her mission, well, you can see yourself out.
“Stop rehashing my past for no reason, because everything is different now,” Lohan recently told a Variety reporter, in response to a question about how Hollywood could help bring about equality for women. In an interview last month with Paper, her publicist asked the writer to mention that Lohan arrived “on time.”
Lohan’s new chapter is the theme of the first episode, which kicked off with the actress triumphantly perched on a boat in the sparkling blue sea: “I want to be my own boss,” she announced. So she and her business partner, Panos Spentzos, rounded up a group of American “VIP hosts” to work at Lohan Beach House, her third establishment in Greece. As these VIP hosts caused all sorts of unnecessary drama, the sadness seeped in when viewers learned what motivated Lohan to create the club; and also when it was made clear how damaged she is by her time in Hollywood.
In the opening segment, Lohan talked about why she loves Greece: “I've always loved the beauty and serenity I feel when I'm here,” she says. “Mykonos is the place to be . . . it's beautiful, it's open-minded, and most of all, it's safe.”
If “safe” didn’t quite fit in with those other descriptors, it made sense later in the episode, when Lohan reminded Spentzos that he had known her since “I was hit on that beach.”
Spentzos turned serious as he told the camera about the violent incident in Mykonos that made headlines in 2016: “Three years ago, Lindsay was there on that beach with her ex-boyfriend. She got hit by him.”
“I was in a very tumultuous relationship. I was in a different place in my life,” Lohan explained. “Instead of crying or getting angry, I said, ‘I’m gonna own this beach one day.' Because I always want everyone to feel safe.”
“She wanted to remember this beach as a very fun place. Not what happened to her,” Spentzos added.
Lohan started to cry as she described bringing her mother to the beach club for the first time. “I made it something that is meaningful to me,” she said. Lohan then segued into her disappointment in the club’s new “VIP hosts,” who got drunk the first night of filming. “I don’t want these kids to [mess] that up for my family and my future.”
As the show went on, Lohan took on the role of the strict boss who didn’t have time for drunken antics and wouldn’t hesitate to fire anyone. (“I want to build an empire here, this is not ‘Girls Gone Wild.’ ”) Cast members repeatedly gushed about how lucky they were to be working for Lohan, and that they didn’t want to disappoint her.
“I grew up watching Lindsay, and when I was a little girl, I used to be like, ‘I want to be like her,’ ” said May Yassine, a waitress from New York. “Now I’m working for her. I still think this is a dream. “
“I’m so nervous to see how Lindsay is as a boss,” said Jonitta Wallace, a VIP host from Los Angeles, noting Lohan worked “so hard” for this club. “The paparazzi, they paint this picture of her as, like, this horrible person.”
This also came up again and again: Lohan has serious trust issues from years in the spotlight, particularly with people using her for their own gain. She moved to Dubai years ago, and during the episode’s after-show, she explained her reasoning: “I moved to Dubai because it’s illegal to take photos of people without their knowledge. That’s really important to me.”
In one scene, Lohan confronted the staff about their drunken pool party. Gabi Andrews, a bartender from Washington, admitted she was on the show for “selfish” reasons, and saw it as a steppingstone for her own career. Lohan wasn’t impressed.
“I don’t have time for people making their own intentions on working with me,” Lohan fumed, adding, “Being in the public eye, people all the time take from me. And it’s hard.”
Later, she fretted about cast members taking advantage of her. “Just like everyone watches me, I’m watching them. Camera’s flipped now,” she said defiantly.
Granted, it’s a reality series, so those sound bites could have easily been scripted — but it sounded like pretty real pain from someone who, as a child star, never had a shot at a normal life. As easy as it would be to write off “Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club” as yet another ridiculous show, when you consider everything that led the once-celebrated actress to this place, it actually just feels tragic.
(This post has been updated.)