Red States, Blue States, and Bristol Palin: Life's a Tripp

Bristol lacks her mother's charisma, but the show plays up the polarized America Sarah Palin represents.

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By reality TV standards Bristol Palin: Life's a Tripp, which premiered Tuesday night on Lifetime, is pretty boring. Sure there are tears, screaming—and not all of it coming from the title character's young son Tripp. Yet Bristol Palin—whose previous forays into reality television include Dancing With the Stars, Sarah Palin's Alaska, and, one could argue, the 2008 presidential campaign—is no Teen Mom. The interactions seem scripted, her voice-overs drag on, and the overall plot arch is extremely predictable.

While Bristol lacks her mother's charisma, the almost-vice-president's-daughter has no problem cashing in on the polarized America Sarah Palin has come to represent.

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The first episode starts in Alaska, with Bristol recounting in the opening monologue her rise to fame as the pregnant, unmarried teenage daughter of John McCain's VP choice. Through her trials and triumphs, she seems happy at home: "Even though it seemed like the media was trying to tear me down, my faith, my family and my friends held me up." She is clearly proud to be a "simple girl from a small town in Alaska," and even proclaims that she "wants to raise Tripp Alaskan."

Despite all the Yukon charm, she's decided to venture to California, land of Nancy Pelosi and Modern Family, to work for a charity and to "show Tripp what's out there, that there's more than just a tiny town."

Once she arrives in L.A., dragging her 17-year-old sister Willow along to play nanny, her excitement quickly turns to discomfort. The two go shopping in Beverly Hills and the glitz and glamor appalls Bristol. The clothing appears to be "for strippers," the way Californians dress is a "free for all," and coming from Alaska, "the image thing to me, doesn't mean much." She also gets an introduction the city's poverty on a tour with a religious charity for which she will be working.

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"Where we're taking you is what they call 'skid row'," explains her charity coworker. "What is skid row?" Bristol asks, in what viewers have to believe is all sincerity. We aren't in Wasilla anymore, Toto.

The Red State/Blue State conflict comes to a head when Bristol takes a break from single motherhood to kick back with friends at country western bar—which is in an interesting setting choice considering the show's small-town-gal-goes-to-the-big-city formula—and gets into a shouting match with one of its patrons. A Sarah Palin-naysayer heckles Bristol while she rides a mechanical bull and Bristol actively chooses to confront him. "Give me one example," she challenges the man, while he sputters slurs of her mother being "evil," and "a whore." The man fails to come up with one concrete, convincing example to back up his claims (which, to be fair, could be due to Lifetime's editing), instead stooping as low to say he would rather hang with Bristol Palin's baby-daddy Levi.

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That's a clown diss, bro. But Bristol sacrifices her moral highground by asking, "Is it because you're a homosexual?" This is no longer just about a drunk jerk at a bar. This is about America's culture wars, and Alaska's sweetheart, who leaves the bar in tears, is a casualty.

The show ends with Bristol miserable as Willow decides to abandon her in California (Willow proves to be just the sullen, selfish brat you would expect of a teenage girl). Bristol ponders the "life lessons" she has already learned, and wonders how she will take care of Tripp without the help of her family. Before this cynical conclusion, however, the pilot includes one scene that suggests Bristol could find hope and happiness in La La Land when she meets up with her Dancing With the Stars partner Mark Ballas. He jokes about the "sweet" text messages Sarah Palin still sends him and she confides in him about her on-again, off-again boyfriend back in Alaska. Maybe a conservative icon's daughter and a Hollywood c-list celebrity can find some common ground over an alfresco lunch. Stay tuned.

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  • Tierney Sneed is associate editor of U.S. News Opinion. E-mail her at tsneed@usnews.com.