Don't You Wanna Be Like Lindsay Lohan, Honey?

Remember when reality TV was just a glimmer in Mark Burnett's eye? When people were positively scandalized by the concept of leaving a group of strangers on a deserted island and letting them fight it out to see who would be The Survivor? And then, well, a naked portly gay man won the first competition, the show turned out to be one of the least sleazy shows of the new genre, and everybody kind of got used to the fact that reality TV was here to stay, wasn't really real, and was pretty goddam funny, if you had the right kind of loose attitudes toward quality and morals and, well, just about everything.

And now the show comes along that embodies everything everybody was ever worried about with regard to reality television, and its name is Sunset Tan.

If I told you that somebody was going to do a reality show based on a cheesy tanning salon in Hollywood, you would either say:

  1. That is the most terrible idea I've ever heard. I'm getting rid of cable and resubscribing to Mother Jones.
  2. That is the most terrible idea I've ever heard. I can't wait!
Number 2 people, you know who you are. Set your Tivos accordingly.

Wow, this show is terrible. And by terrible, I mean fantastic. It's not really the heir to other retail/service industry shows like Blow Out and Work Out. Those are Bravo shows, and terrible as they are, they're Masterpiece Theater compared to Sunset Tan.

Sunset Tan is produced by E!, and it shows. Luckily, they've stumbled upon the magic formula that has only been achieved a few times in television history, most notably on Paradise Hotel, and Real World Las Vegas.

The formula: take good looking (or semi-good looking) really stupid people, put them together in some kind of controlled but very loose environment, add alcohol, mix, and run the cameras.

But Sunset Tan takes it even a little further than Real World Vegas and Paradise Hotel. Those shows were notable for their lack of structure -- Real World because all they ever did was get drunk, go to parties, and screw each other. Paradise Hotel because the show gloriously had no goal, no ultimate prize, no way of deciding who "won." The entire purpose of the show was just to stay "in Paradise" with the other drunk assholes. There was no structure at all, just a bunch of assholes and an open bar and a means for voting old assholes out of "Paradise" and bringing new assholes in.

The genius of Sunset Tan is that they've taken The Formula and added to it behind-the-scenes, ham-fisted manipulation, so you never really get the feeling that what you're watching is remotely real in any sense of the word. It's a tanning salon. Nothing really happens. So, perhaps taking a cue from Work Out and The Hills and Laguna Beach and all the other scripted/forced reality shows, you can very clearly see the strings of this low-rent marionnette act. Its about as spontaneous as The World's Strongest Man (wasn't that the first reality show, by the way? Wouldn't all shows benefit from the strong, silent presence of Manus Ver Magnuson?), as real as Laguna Beach and The Hills.

The "employees" of Sunset Tan are, well, they're not really employees, and that's part of the fun. E! -- god, I love typing that exclamation point, it just really summarizes everything there is to say about E! (there it is again! charming!) -- has taken the concept of nonreality reality and run with it. I have to assume that there really is a Sunset Tan in Hollywood, and that some of the people on the show were there before cameras started rolling. Some of them. However, they've clearly brought in some plants, most notably Molly and Holly, the "Olly Girls," two teen butterfaces who may indeed be legally retarded, and seem to have modeled themselves after Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie.

At one point, the guy who seems to run Sunset Tan pulls the Ollies aside for basically undressing and jumping on some dude who has shown up for a tan (he seems a bit too in on the joke, as well). "You guys have a great future here and you're really talented," he says, "but..." and then I kind of phased out as my head exploded at the concept of these two fembot retards being really talented at something other than putting on their dresses and choosing the sizes of their implants. The Ollies reach a new level of blind starfucking as they get all dolled up and come into work on their off day (they seem to work exclusively together) in order to meet a "huge" and "supersexy" star. The object of all this effort: Chris Kattan.

If there's one thing I can say that will get across the profound stupidity of these girls it is this: they make Chris Kattan seem really cool and normal and funny.

The other employees are a mix of blonds with terrible management styles ("No, I didn't get your message. Yes, you are responsible for making sure I pick up my phone. Just call every five minutes. Call until I do pick up...." or "Hi Sweetie. I decided to stay in Miami Beach one more day, so if you could just go ahead and do my job and yours for one more day, that'd be great...") and very bronzed men who dress like they're reprising the old Chris Kattan "Night at the Roxbury" skit to some kind of 07 version where instead of shiny suits, the too-old clubhopper hipster wannabes wear thousand dollar torn jeans and five hundred dollar retro tee shirts and have a whole bunch of shit in their hair and call each other "bro" a lot. Then there's the "girl next door" type from Oklahoma, who is pretty much the only non-toxic personality on the show, and is there to say "I just don't live my life like that" and to get all worked up about the assholes acting like assholes and their general assholishness, and will probably make some kind of anti-gay or racist remark and then we'll all learn a Little Something About Life as a result. Actually, this girl seems really nice, and I hope whatever agent booked her on Sunset Tan will live to regret it in some way.

Since it's a show about a tanning salon, not much happens, except for the stuff that E has made happen -- the stupid girls do stupid shit and get yelled at, and then get in fights with the bad blond managers, there's some kind of fake-ass competition to see who will get to run the new store in Vegas, they all get drunk and jump in the pool naked, the bronzed doofus too-old ripped jeans guys decide that the way to make a business decision is to bring the young tee shirt dude to Vegas to meet one of the Maloof brothers and then have what seems like the entire cast of the Pussycat Dolls run around naked and drunk in his room, and then see how he'll react. "Maybe I need to have somebody single out here. Somebody who can party all night and then kick ass during the day," Bronzed Male Tee Shirt Hair Dude Number 2 says.

But it's not just the employees that come off as self-involved douchebags. The customers are even better. In the first ten minutes of the first show, a mother brings her young daughter into the salon to get ready for her fourth grade class photo. When told that the best approach would be a $1200 mixture of spray and tanning bed -- "the cocktail" -- because "It's what Lindsey Lohan gets," the mother actually says to her terrified and not-interested and perfectly pigmented little girl: "ooooh, the Lindsay Lohan! Do you want to get what Lindsay Lohan gets? Don't you want to be like Lindsay Lohan, honey?!?!"

More sad and unintentionally hilarious words have never been uttered, not even by the Olly Girls.

It's all pretty fucking brilliant, in a pretty fucking terrible way. If you're one of those people, like me, who enjoy your reality less than real, with a high ratio of unintentional comedy, I can highly recommend this show. Remember, Number 2 people, we didn't really appreciate Paradise Hotel until it was almost over. Let's not make the same mistake twice.


Mike said...

Damn it, Dave. Now there's one more ridiculous show I'll probably start watching.

And that Lohan comment -- Holy Jesus. That's pretty much all I can say to that. Or maybe the Mom only knows the Parent Trap version of The Lohan? That would make it slightly less creepy, right?

Anonymous said...

There's only one law to live by, as a parent: any publicity is good publicity.

Voix said...

Maybe I missed it, but have you ever blogged about Hef's Girls Next Door? That show is like crack. I just can't stop watching it.

TMC said...

so, what do I have to do to be like Lindsay Lohan?

BLAKE said...

i'm glad i'm not the only one who was engrossed and grossed at once by this damn show. damn damn.

Gloria said...

I just went to Sunset Tan in Hollywood and was blown away. The people on the show ARE actually working there. My tan turned out great too!