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'Lindsay' premiere on OWN: Oprah Winfrey's latest teachable moment

Lindsay Lohan in her reality show "Lindsay," on

Lindsay Lohan in her reality show "Lindsay," on Oprah Winfrey's OWN network. Credit: OWN

Those averse to numerology might do well to steer clear of "Lindsay," as Lohan's reality series on OWN is jam-packed with digits. Director Amy Rice inscribes them on every title card she can: 90 (how many days Lohan spent in rehab in August), $51,135 (how much "The Canyons" grossed), two (DUIs in 2007). Facts are fun, but Rice continues, compulsively clicking off the days passed since Lohan left rehab, retuned to New York, began searching for an apartment. We know Oprah Winfrey is all about those teachable moments, but what does it all add up to?

From a structural standpoint, it's an attempt to force drama, a sense of urgency that isn't there. Learning that "after 20 days in NYC, Lindsay still hasn't found an apartment" isn't exactly a statement worthy of plaintive background music; apartment hunting in all five boroughs is laborious, whether you did a Winfrey interview four days after exiting rehab, starred in 1998's "The Parent Trap" or spent 36 days in a hotel.

For a pilot -- unless you count Lohan's Aug. 3, 2013, sit-down with Winfrey as the true first episode, which in many ways it was -- the premiere of "Lindsay" is indeed a bit flat. But the show has been positioned by OWN as a "docu-series," a glimpse into the life of a high-profile celebrity addict that won't benefit from manipulation. Addiction is a subject that can often be represented in a rather one-dimensional way in popular culture (the "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" franchise, for instance), and the real tension in watching "Lindsay" is the inherent exploitation of someone attempting to stay sober.

Stripping away Rice's compulsion for numerics, "Lindsay" does take a more-or-less straightforward documentary approach. Scenes of Lindsay surrounded by the physical mainstays of her existence -- paparazzi, vehicles with tinted windows, possessions bursting from boxes and suitcases -- are grounded by one-on-one interviews with Lohan and the people in her orbit -- her mother Dina, personal assistant Matt Harrell, sober coach Michael Cormier, a counselor with Cliffside Malibu where she did rehab.

And of course there's Winfrey, the hand guiding all. The premiere begins with clips from that August interview, with TV's matriarch pressing Lohan on her drug of choice (alcohol) and telling the actress, "I want you to win." Whether that's foreshadowing or a threat is unclear, but OWN needs "Lindsay" to win, too. The network showed a profit for the first time in August, according the The Associated Press, after launching in January 2011. "Lindsay" is certainly a high-profile addition to the brand.

Plenty of major advertisers -- Volkswagen, Purina and M&Ms among them -- bought time during the "Lindsay" debut. And, in one of the more insidious integrations of product placement, numerous mentions of Lohan's rehab facility were underscored by three separate advertisements for Cliffside Malibu. (If Lohan ever admits to an affinity for Coca-Cola, perhaps she could get her own talk show.)

In between those lengthy commercial breaks, Lohan moves back to New York, visits her mother on Long Island, checks out 10 Manhattan apartments and sorts jewelry in her hotel room while speaking of a need for a more permanent home and how she's "figuring things out for myself." These relatively relatable moments are juxtaposed with man-on-the street musings on the star ("I'm hoping that she gets better," "She appears to be quite lost"), close-up shots of telephoto lenses on the prowl and montages of Lohan on the red carpet and in the news.

When not fixed on Lohan for Q&As, the camera often trails the actress or shoots from a backseat, shifting our point-of-view from confesee to stalker. Though she's talking to paparazzi after a New York Fashion Week show when she says, "You've got enough shots. Go away," it's tempting to listen. Earlier, when she skips an AA meeting because of the photographers huddled outside her hotel, viewers are implicated, too. That gives hope for a "Lindsay" that might just dissect celebrity fan culture a bit. We'll see: seven episodes to go.

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