TV Review: ‘American Princess’ on Lifetime

Jenji Kohan is a creative force helping to define two of the best shows of the streaming era — “Orange Is the New Black,” which she created, and “GLOW,” on which she is an executive producer. “American Princess,” which she produces with creator Jamie Denbo, takes key elements of the Kohan playbook — a character placed in an unfamiliar community with its own distinct rules, a combination of utopian politics and disregard for cultural orthodoxy, a willingness to be gross and odd at times. Say this for Lifetime’s “American Princess,” then: Its failure makes clear what precise alchemy goes into making a show a success.

The pilot, for instance, is constructed with attention to story beats and to seeding conflicts, and paying them off with drama. Amanda Klein (Georgia Flood), a New York freelance writer, is gearing up for her gruesomely elaborate upstate wedding when she inadvertently discovers her soon-to-be-spouse bedding a sex worker. Soon enough, she’s split from him and gone AWOL, stumbling onto the campus of a non-stop Renaissance fair. But the show also makes it impossible to root for Amanda or even to be vaguely interested in what happens to her, so outright unpleasant company is she. The ambient sense that something is very off here, that the bones of a warm and charming comedy are being subsumed by a lack of writerly control, first really kicks in when Amanda inadvertently-ish attacks sex worker Helen (Erin Pineda). Her head smashes a table and spurts blood all over Amanda; we’re later informed that she’s bitten off and swallowed part of her tongue, and when Helen reappears, she speaks with a pronounced lisp.

This isn’t funny — nor is it funny when Amanda rips the nipple ring off her Ren-Faire love interest (Lucas Neff), leaving a bloody, gaping wound, or when Amanda sees the pubic hair of the Faire’s self-styled Queen (Seana Kofoed) and reports to her fellow performers about quite how unruly it is. The show uses bawdy body humor to express a fundamental disrespect for its characters, ripping them apart in hopes it can provide a moment’s amusement, even as the aftertaste is increasingly grotty. The gross-out comedy is a particularly poor brand fit for Lifetime — whose recent stabs at savvy, urbane satirical dramas, “Unreal” and “You,” both made more sense on their air and felt, from the beginning, far more fully formed. 

The same sensibility applies to Amanda, who spews lines that seem from one angle relentlessly stupid and from another ingenious, designed as they are to represent her as someone who cannot back away from her own vanity and ignorance. When she says she should be able to master a task because she graduated summa cum laude from Vassar, she fails splashily seconds later, as though the director knew the punchline was too obvious to bother building tension. Asked to practice her curtsying to fulfill the duties of the Renaissance Faire she decided to join, Amanda replies “The only person I bow down to in real life is Beyoncé.” Confronted with a new style of parenting, she remarks, “I read about this in Vanity Fair, i think — or a BuzzFeed listicle.”

That’s clearly meant to elicit a laugh, even as it’s less than meaningless. Once Amanda’s friends (played diffidently by Mimi Gianopulos, Helen Madelyn Kim, and Tommy Dorfman) arrive on the scene, the game becomes clear; we’re meant to be rooting for Amanda to transcend a social milieu even more obnoxious than is she. (There are jokes about feeling triggered; someone says “hashtag-me-too” to agree with a statement.) But so much time has been spent with Amanda’s unhumble brags and her unceasing monologue that life at the Ren Faire has not been allowed to exist as anything but the alternative to the familiar. Why is this, precisely, where she should be and towards which she should aspire, just as elsewhere in the Kohan oeuvre Piper sheds her skin in prison and Ruth reinvents herself in a wrestling troupe? Here, the answer is “no reason, but keep watching.” Unfortunately for Lifetime, a network lately pushing to find a millennial audience but having trouble finding a hit, it’s hard to imagine who’d take that bet.

“American Princess.” Lifetime. June 2. Ten episodes (four screened for review).

Executive Producers: Jamie Denbo, Jenji Kohan, Tara Herrmann, Mark Burley.

Cast: Georgia Flood, Lucas Neff, Seana Kofoed, Rory O’Malley, Mary Hollis Inboden

TV Review: 'American Princess' on Lifetime

More TV

  • Feras Fayyad77th Annual Peabody Awards, Show,

    'The Cave' Director Feras Fayyad Finally Arrives in U.S. After Visa Troubles

    “The Cave” director Feras Fayyad has finally made it into the United States, weeks after he was denied entry into the country. According to National Geographic Documentary Films, which is behind the Oscar-nominated “The Cave,” “we can report that Feras arrived safely this evening in Los Angeles.” Fayyad’s arrival comes after he missed a Television [...]

  • I Sing the Body Electric

    'I Sing the Body Electric': How a 'Fame' Monster Was Reimagined for the Grammys

    Longtime Grammy telecast producer Ken Ehrlich has delivered his Grammy swan song (figuratively and literally), and it couldn’t have happened without … Walt Whitman. To usher out his 40-year era as the guiding light behind some of TV’s greatest musical moments, Ehrlich chose the song “I Sing the Body Electric” from the 1980 movie musical [...]

  • Kobe Bryant Staples Center memorial

    Kobe Bryant Mourners Gather Outside Staples Center to Remember Basketball Great

    Within hours of the news of Kobe Bryant’s death breaking, a fast-growing crowd of about two hundred people had gathered outside of the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday to mourn the Lakers legend, who died earlier that day in a helicopter crash. Chants of “Kobe! Kobe!” broke out spontaneously outside of the sports [...]

  • Tanya Tucker and Brandi Carlile -

    Tanya Tucker Wins First Grammys, 47 Years After First Nomination

    Country music legend Tanya Tucker picked up her first two wins at the 62nd annual Grammy Awards on Sunday at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The 61-year-old singer won for best country song for “Bring My Flowers Now” and best country album for “While I’m Livin’.” “After 50 years in this business, I have a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content