The extreme voyeurism of reality television reaches out and tweaks the worst part of our natures. If Bristol Palin left her diary on the table in your kitchen, would you read it? If a Palin reality show was filmed in Alaska and nobody watched would it really be real? These questions and more bedevil me as we journey to the land of the midnight sun where the men are men and apparently the women are too in Bristol Palin: Life's A Tripp.
Yes, OK, it happened. I watched the first two episodes of Bristol Palin: Life's a Tripp in order to write a snarky review that appeared here. My duty done as I guffawed over all things Palin and I was pretty certain I was not going to be going back to Wasillibilly land anytime soon. After all there were so many snarkable shows out there and I was getting my chops ready to take on The Newsroom sometime soon.
Time passed and the next two episodes aired and I noted them in passing. I felt a slight tug to watch episode three because I just have this one little perversity (no it's not that one). Whenever I see that something that is universally hated, I have a bad habit of liking it. That is how I became a Jessica Simpson fan. And it is why I would be writing super-positive reviews of The Newsroom right now if that darn Dan Rather hadn't beaten me to it on Gawker.
OK, I admit it. I am fascinated by the earnest, pudgy, "sleepwalking through life" indifference of Bristol Palin - she literally doesn't know how she comes off in this show. I am also fascinated by the dull, stiff, pillow-facedness of sister Willow and I want to be there when she actually has an honest-to-god human moment. Plus, it is just fascinating to watch the evolution of Willow's hair, sometimes even within one episode. So, yes dammit, I watched and like the philosopher in Plato's Allegory of the Cave, I am forced to report to you people watching the reflected shadows on the wall what the true nature of reality is.
I think episode three, called Bristol, a Book, and the Beach, had a brief flash of Bristol at her "job" doing a forklift or something. But the most jarring moment when Sarah is on the phone talking about some "Trig Truther" professor who has been running around Anchorage trying to dig up the truth about whether Sarah is the actual mother of her son Trig or if there is some incredible cover up about Bristol giving birth to him. Being a Trig Truther also involves studying photographs of Sarah and Bristol from 2008 looking for baby bumps. Fortunately when comparing Trig and Tripp's birthdays, one can see that 17-year-old Bristol was pregnant with Tripp when she supposedly secretly gave birth to Trig. Sarah is the one who gave birth to Trig after the 20-hour flight from Texas to Alaska. However, it is just odd to see them even interject this weird tabloid nugget into Bristol's show and right out of Sarah Palin's own mouth over the phone, especially since no credible news source gives any credence to the story.
Anyway, thank god, Willow comes back to babysit Tripp. We get some great scenes of Bristol and Willow sitting around reading from and discussing Levi Johnston's book, Deer in the Headlights: My Life in Sarah Palin's Crosshairs. Then, Bristol pulls a gimmick from her Mom's style to go shooting (in LA!) and ends up putting some bullets in Levi's book. In shooting the heck out of that book, she proves to be a better shot than her mother, who took several shots to bring down a caribou in Sarah Palin's Alaska, much to the disgust of Aaron Sorkin, PETA and anyone who has ever shot a gun.
Levi Johnston is rumored to have turned down $10,000 to appear in one episode of the show. Now, one can say many things about young Levi and many have, but to turn down the privilege of being humiliated by your baby Mama on a cable TV reality show AND that much money took a certain level of fortitude. This boy is in the Palin firing line (almost literally) for all of us. Thye shot the dude's book with a rifle! Then, because he wouldn't appear on the show, he had to be set up as the villain of episode four, Baby Daddy Dilemma, in a similar way that he was in episode three, by not being there. It is fascinating to watch Bristol conceive her triple revenge on Levi in episode four by first showing us all (including Levi) her brother teaching Tripp to skate and the house she is building across the lake from her parents Todd and Sarah in Wasilla. Here she lays the foundation of the sadness that Levi has brought into their lives and hapless, feckless absent father that Levi Johnston has become. Oddly though she does slip in some complaints about the way he has a way of making her mad in the way he takes Tripp, so apparently he does see his son sometimes. Then she calls him, knowing that he probably will not pickup (Bristol calling... would you pick up?) and after leaving a only slightly dismissive voicemail, she texts him that she and Tripp will be at Bouncing Bears in Anchorage if he wants to meet up. Then she and Willow (thank God Willow is there) drive into Anchorage and it's odd here, among many odd moments of the Palin parenting style, that she encourages her son to call his father by his name rather than Dad, or Daddy.
Arriving at the entertainment center the pair play with Tripp while waiting anxiously for Levi to show up. However, they never received any confirmation from Levi that he was ever going to show up. Who knows? He might have been booked for another appearance reading from his book on the Lawrence O'Donnell show or set for another photo spread, or another other money-making venture. Recent news that he had dropped his agent and was more involved in his new family with Sunny, who he apparently impregnated during a time that Ross and Rachel, I mean he and Bristol, were on a break.
One is reminded of the poor dude divorcing Bristol's Aunt Molly who found the entire power of the Governor's office, including unofficial advisor Todd coming down on him back in 2008. He was accused of multiple nefarious acts including shooting a moose out of season in an attempt to get him fired from his job as a state trooper. Not only did the Commissioner of Public Safety refuse to fire Sarah Palin's ex-brother-in-law, but they put him on a poster exemplifying State Troopers that the Governor traditionally signed for a publicity campaign. It was this affront that got Walt Monegan fired, you can read about it in the Branchflower report that lead the ruling that Palin abused her power as Governor.
Meanwhile, back in Anchorage, and despite the false suspense of "will he or won't he" written all over Bristol's furrowed brow, Levi is smart enough not get into any kind of on camera confrontation that will end up in the hands of Bristol's editors. Finally, she packs up the truck and heads back to Wasilla and in a truly awkward sequence she and Gino, her recent off-and-on boyfriend, decide its on and he gets her permission to make it Facebook official.
Then this past week the news broke that ratings for Life's A Tripp were in free fall from the debut week. Something like 726,000 viewers for the debut (losing half of its lead-in audience) and viewership had fallen to 586,000 for number three then down to 426,000 for number four. Yes, almost 30 per cent of the audience couldn't sit through the hour-long pair of shows. And the news is that Lifetime is moving Bristol's show out of primetime to 11:00 pm, thinking this might improve the viewership no doubt. Some media publications are already figuring the show is headed for cancellation. Nooooooooooo!
But fortunately, the legendary white knight, the beloved politician, historian, news commentator, author, pundit, speechifier, mother and reality star Sarah Palin is swooping in to save the day. Sarah recently hit the headlines with legendary quote on the news sites of her calling House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi a "dingbat" for celebrating the Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act. Yeah, you heard that right, Sarah Palin called someone a dingbat. And after the lawfully appointed highest court in the land upheld a law that was passed legally in both houses of the properly establish legislature of the people of the United States of America and signed into law by a President of the United States elected by nearly 70 million votes and who garnered nearly 365 votes in the electoral college, Sarah declared that freedom had died. According to Bristol, since they don't have professional sports teams in Alaska or TV Shows, Sarah is the "Alaskan celebrity." I guess Bristol is not aware of other reality shows that take place in The Last Frontier, such as National Geographic's Alaska State Troopers, Discovery's Flying Wild Alaska, Deadliest Catch and Gold Rush Alaska, and History's Ice Road Truckers.
But Bristol's show provides us with a flashback to when Sarah made her triumphant appearance at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) and Ms. Palin Goes to Washington. If there is anything that Sarah Palin is a master of, it is the snarky speech attacking someone mixed with the evokation of misty times gone by that never really existed. It represents the yin and yang of Palinism as she is, on one hand reviled and on the other the reviler and ne'er the twain shall meet. There is no doubt that she is a rock star among the mount-breathing lizard-brained wing of the far right Republicans, a rump party caucus backed by millionaire dollars and united in the hatred of President Barack Obama, liberals and anything resembles progress or tolerance. Sarah Palin is also despised by many Democrats and recently was lampooned on episode two of The Newsroom when she confused Holland and Norway during the BP Oil spill. Bristol is eager to go to Washington but doesn't enjoy some parts, "When I see protesters, it kinda makes me sick." And she adds that she thinks that the protesters should be " doing something productive with your life."
In a nice bit of synchonicity, Bristol has a book signing in Washington while her mother where her mother is speaking. We meet the "co-author" of Bristol's book, Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far, Nancy French, who interestingly also wrote such tomes as Why Evangelicals Should Support Mitt Romney (And Feel Good about It!) and A Red State of Mind: How a Catfish Queen Reject Became a Liberty Belle. Leaving the signing Bristol and Willow meet a Sarah Palin impersonator which is a bizarre, especially when a guy ignores Bristol and focuses on the faux Sarah. Back in Wasilla, Gino holds down the fort and fills Willow's job of watching Tripp while Bristol is doing what she does. WE join the gals in Washington as Sarah makes the scene at CPAC and Bristol is very protective, "Don't touch my Mom, don't mess with her or I'll whip your A-S-S." Then a heckler arises during the speech by the independent spirit and conservative thinker Sarah and gets chanted down by the independent spirit and conservative thoughts of the crowd. We get a brief snippet of the actual speech that ends with "God bless you patriots!"
Next up is Sarah's mini-surprise party which is attended by Sarah, Willow and Bristol. Geez, awkward. Willow never wants to live on the East Coast because of the "Liberals." The three have a scintillating round of chat about their own specialness, looks and the impersonater and then Sarah begs off because she has to go study.
Things turn to the homefront in episode six, Sarah's Surprise, when Bristol struggles to discipline willful young Tripp and daddy Todd puts in a guest appearance to provide some sage wisdom to the girls on how to accept responsibility. Then Todd leaves telling them to "get off the couch and do something." Willow and Bristol literally don't seem to understand that Tripp's bad behavior is just a reflection of their nasty way of talking and acting. It is amusing and slightly disturbing to see Willow's glee at her nemesis Tripp's punishment by his mommy. This and Willow's mockery of Bristol are hilarious and she is beginning to emerge as a breakout star of this show, in some ways becoming the voice of those watching. Even though they had a small party in D.C., Bristol and Willow want a bigger event to celebrate Sarah turning 48. As Bristol notes, "She's old, she's really old."
On a shopping trip to the grocery store, the other Palin daughter Piper comes along to provide the nugget of advice, "Stop spoiling him." Tripp is really misbehaving now and the dude is really getting annoying. As Willow says, "Stop your whining!" Then during the photo session to create one of Sarah's gifts, Tripp behavior gets Bristol to threaten "No Santa Claus." One just wonders if she gets it, really, but doesn't know it. Then they go shopping at the Sports Warehouse and look over some pink pistols, because as the salesman says, "Every lady needs a little pink gun." But the problem is that Sarah has "all kinds of guns."
Then their party planning is hampered not only by the problems of disciplining Trigg and the fact that neither Willow or Bristol know anything about working in a kitchen. Finally everything is together and everybody gathers at Bristol's grandparents house. Fortunately Gino steps into the Tripp situation, recognizing that Bristol doesn't really discipline her son. The Sarah shows up and is "surprised", then she gets her photo and little pink gun. Ultimately this episode devolves into someone else's home movies.
At the end Bristol muses that it is difficult to juggle all the roles, but it does seem to be easier back in Alaska. She seems to hint at marriage to Gino, but doesn't really mention anything about getting a job or writing a new book. Maybe she could show herself creating a reality show so that we have a reality show about creating a reality show in Alaska. Soon the ratings will be in and we will find out what the Sarah Palin bump is really about.
It's the 4th of July and freedom in America means even morons like them and me have the right to say what we want. God bless America.