Welcome to the year 2013, where it’s not Barbara Walters or Diane Sawyer, Today or 20/20, Oprah, or even Dave Letterman who lands the biggest celebrity appearance of the summer. It’s a late-night talk show on the E! network.
Yes, the E! series Chelsea Lately landed the coveted first Lindsay Lohan appearance on her promotional tour for her new movie, The Canyons, and, more important, her first on-camera appearance following her much-ballyhooed stint in rehab. Magnifying the spotlight already shining brightly on the gig, she opted not to appear as a guest on the show but instead to guest host it, filling in for Handler, who over the years has taken countless potshots at Lohan’s troubles.
She didn’t use the opportunity to confess her rock-bottom moment, as she would’ve during a Barbara Walters interview, or discuss what got her through her toughest times, as she may do next week when she sits down with Oprah. She wasn’t there solely to shamelessly plug The Canyons, which would have been a logical PR move on Leno or Letterman. Instead she used the gig to reveal something even more important and illuminating: Lindsay Lohan is alive again.
Giggly and sharp and looking better than she has in a very (very) long time, she came off as fun and funny and even professional—a word that, especially following The New York Times’ retelling of her nightmarish behavior on the set of The Canyons, one would never imagine hearing again to describe Lindsay Lohan. She delivered the obviously prewritten jokes she’d be given with that winking comedic timing that earned her Hollywood’s Next Big Thing status following Mean Girls. She was loose and quick-thinking, engaging in improv banter with the panel of comedians that opened the show and nailing a breezy, laugh-filled interview with Orphan Black star Dylan Bruce that closed that show. (Because when I think about what Lindsay Lohan does in her spare time, my first thought is that she binge watches an existential BBC America sci-fi series about clones...)
She began the episode with a monologue picking fun at “the celebrities who kept the tabloids alive in my absence” (Anthony Weiner, Kanye West, Justin Bieber), proving that she’s both in on the joke and can dish as well as she takes. Some of her best lines:
On why Chelsea Handler was off that day:
“I did see someone who looks a lot like her move into my room at Cliffside.”
On why she’s been out of the spotlight herself:
“As you know, for the past 90 days I’ve been on a lovely court-ordered vacation in Malibu. On a real note, it was really great and wonderful. I have a lot of people to thank for that ... like the celebrities who kept the tabloids alive in my absence.”
On the double standard she suffers from:
“How come when Kanye acts like an idiot, he gets a gold record, but when I act like an idiot, I get a criminal record.”
On rumors about One Direction’s Harry Styles’s sexuality:
“Rumors that he’s bisexual with a DJ named Nick ... I’ve been there.”
On Kristen Stewart’s paparazzi freakout:
“I’m just excited that Kristen Stewart finally showed some emotion ... Of course she hates photographers. They got a picture of her kissing a married man inside a Mini Cooper.”
On the clone element of Orphan Black:
“It would be really convenient to have a clone for me. I have one right now ... she’s the one doing all the bad shit.”
Hosting Chelsea Lately was a surprising and incredibly risky move for the star who, once again, is looking to prove that she’s left her troubles behind at her rehab clinic and she’s ready to be working again. She’s dived into these waters before, however, belly-flopping embarrassingly each time, soaking casting agents with a massive splash of negative press that kept her from getting the work she desired.
There was the first time she tried to make a comeback, in 2008, with a guest arc on the ABC comedy Ugly Betty. Her planned run was cut short, reportedly because of her behavior on set. “It’s over for Lindsay,” one insider told MSNBC at the time. “She’s got no film work, after this, she’s not going to land TV jobs. I hear she’s even tried to get on Dancing With the Stars and can’t.” Her follow-up film, Labor Pains, then had its theatrical run scrapped. ABC Family rescued it for a critically spat-on TV airing.
Her comeback attempt in 2012 took a similar route to the current one—a stint hosting Saturday Night Live—but with not nearly as positive results. “Letting Lindsay Lohan host Saturday Night Live was a mistake,” wrote Mike Ryan at The Huffington Post. “The fact is, she wasn’t ready. It was apparent that the cast and the writers didn’t particularly trust her (and why should they?) since they relegate her to backup duty in pretty much every sketch.” Rather than promote herself as an actress for hire, she flagged herself as the trainwreck to steer clear of.
Then there the was stink bomb Lifetime set off earlier this year, Lohan’s turn as Elizabeth Taylor in the network’s trashy telepic Liz & Dick. It was the worst kind of entertainment disaster. So blatantly doomed that gossip-hound viewers were anxious to at least enjoy laughing at it, the film even failed at attaining that campy, so-bad-it’s-good status. So bad that it was just plain bad, the movie couldn’t even ride the tabloids’ fascination with Lohan to decent ratings. No one bothered to watch, and the ones who did regretted it.
The Lohan trajectory continued a familiar spiral following the Liz & Dick debacle, once again landing the star in rehab, a stint that she, for some reason, appeared to be taking more seriously this time than ever before. Her gig guest-hosting Chelsea Lately coincides with the release of her latest go at an acting comeback, The Canyons. The erotic thriller earned mixed-to-negative reviews, but with a consistent caveat: Lohan is legitimately good in it. Not so bad she’s good, but so good she’s bloody fantastic. There’s a raw conviction in her performance that’s been missing from her robotic, comatose (read: terrible) acting stints lately.
Though on a totally different spectrum, her performance in the film can be taken with her performance Monday night on Chelsea Lately as proof that she’s turned a corner and rediscovered something in herself. Somehow she’s tapped back into the humanity that her troubled lifestyle prevented her from accessing for all these years: a desperation and sadness that elevated her Canyons performance and a joy that radiated on Chelsea Lately. It’s too early to say Lohan is back—she doesn’t have any new acting jobs lined up at the moment—but for the first time, she may be welcome to return.
“I’m especially proud to be on the first episode of Chelsea Lately that doesn’t include a salacious topic about Lindsay Lohan,” Lohan said, her last joke of the episode. Here’s to many more.