- - Monday, June 11, 2012

Being a single mom is tough. Just ask 21-year-old Bristol Palin.

“I think young girls see a baby as an accessory on their hip — and it’s not. It’s something that needs work, needs attention 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she tells the camera in Lifetime’s new docu-series, “Bristol Palin: Life’s a Tripp.” In 10 half-hour episodes, the show, which premieres Tuesday, follows the day-by-day life of Sarah Palin’s oldest daughter as she moves from Alaska to Los Angeles — and then back to Alaska — with her toddler, Tripp, at her side.

Back in 2008, when her mother was nominated as the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Bristol came to fame in “one of the most intense and embarrassing ways possible,” as she said at the time. Her unintended pregnancy at age 17 with her then-boyfriend, fiance-turned-playboy Levi Johnston, was ready-made for tabloids: The daughter of the most famous hockey mom in the country knocked up by a high school jock. The media had a field day.

Since then, Bristol has rebranded that “intense and embarrassing” experience into a successful career. When she’s not starring in her own reality show, penning a best-selling memoir or dancing with the stars, she’s on the speaker’s circuit advocating for teen abstinence and pro-life issues.

So maybe there’s some redeeming message in Bristol’s story — some lesson about making mistakes, learning from them and maturing into adulthood? That, at least, seems to be the moral that “Life’s a Tripp” is groping for.

“It’s really hard being a single mom,” Bristol tells viewers. “I think I’d be a lot more immature and carefree and careless if I didn’t have Tripp. He gives my life purpose and direction.”

It’s a nice message — but one that doesn’t quite ring true throughout the first two episodes of the show.

Everyday life with Bristol includes its fair share of manufactured drama, and through it all, Tripp seems to be a bit of an afterthought. There’s a love-tryst between Bristol and her Alaska-based best friend, Gino. There’s Bristol’s apparently life-altering move from small-town Wasilla to glitzy Los Angeles, where she will be volunteering at the charity Help the Children and living in a palatial Beverly Hills mansion with her younger sister Willow and Tripp. And there’s plenty of on-screen fighting and tears, with strangers and family members alike.

In one scene (documenting a widely reported incident) Bristol is at a Los Angeles restaurant with some friends when a 47-year-old man she doesn’t know starts making sexually vulgar remarks about both Bristol and her famous mother. When Bristol confronts the man, he indignantly says, “If there is a hell, which I don’t believe there is one, [Sarah Palin] will be there.”

Leaving the restaurant, Bristol calls her mom and, through tears, complains, “This is not fair. This is not fun. … I didn’t have anyone here to stick up for me or to help me.”

A short time later, she muses aloud, “I just cannot believe that this is what has become of my … life.”

She’s not the only one: Bristol’s move to L.A. doesn’t make sense as anything other than fodder for the show.

“Being a single mom is the toughest job,” she says before leaving Wasilla. “And living in Alaska, I have all of my family there if I need them. In California, there’s none of that. There’s zero. And that’s why I need Willow to come.”

Willow quits her job in Alaska (via text, no less) to move in with her older sister in L.A., where she watches Tripp during the day while Bristol works at Help the Children. But Willow thinks she’s getting the short end of the stick by being Tripp’s baby sitter while her more famous sister gets to do what she wants — and Willow, despite her immaturity, is right.

Willow hates L.A. “Bristol’s a brat,” she complains to a friend. “I have to watch Tripp every single day. … Even when Bristol’s not working at the charity, I’m still freaking watching him. She thinks I’m like the nanny or something, and that’s not OK.”

In one scene, as Tripp is playing in a sandbox, Willow tells Bristol that she’s moving back to Alaska: “I’m not having fun, so I’m going to go home.”

Bristol accuses Willow of bailing on her and being a quitter. “I think it’s good for you to be able to live in another state, and you’ll actually be grateful for what you have.”

Later, a crying Bristol begs Willow to reconsider her decision. “I was literally your age when I got pregnant, and I never thought it would happen to me. You just don’t realize how much harder this whole experience in California is going to be without you here. … I need you here with me.”

But by the end of the second episode, hearing Bristol complain about how hard her life is has gotten tedious — and it dulls any value the show may have, outside of being the conservative version of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

“Life’s a Tripp” promises to show Bristol grappling with the responsibilities of single motherhood, but really, it shows her palming those responsibilities off on her 17-year-old sister, Willow, who is more concerned with having fun than raising a child. What the young mother needs to remember is that the real victim in this story is not Bristol, the single mom. It is Tripp, the fatherless child.

But maybe that’s for a later episode. In the meantime, why let the needs of a 3-year-old rush a good narrative arc?

WHAT:Bristol Palin: Life’s a Tripp

WHEN: June 19, 10 p.m. on Lifetime

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