June 19, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT

I have to pause here and note that I have no idea who the hell this show is aimed at. There may be a lot of people who desperately want to watch a pair of wealthy (and somewhat directionless) young women who never have to get real jobs joke about how funny Los Angeles is. Earlier in the episode, Sarah Palin herself — who we can only assume is the puppetmaster/Kris Jenner of this whole miserable project — name checked The Beverly Hillbillies, the popular fish-out-of-water sitcom about a family of working-class country folk who become rich and move to the wealthiest zip code in America. The simple but effective joke is that the supposedly civilized society of Beverly Hills is weirder — and far more vicious — than the family’s home in the primordial backwoods.

If that’s what Life’s a Tripp is trying to be, there’s a simple problem: Bristol Palin is already more famous than most people in Beverly Hills. And to judge from her reality TV work, she seems considerably less self-aware than the typical Beverly Hills resident. That became clear in the most off-putting portion of the episode — the sequence that was played for political controversy and has already become the subject of a lawsuit. Bristol was in a bar riding a mechanical bull. From off screen, someone yelled a grotesque insult at her: “Did you ride Levi like that? Your mother’s a whore!” Bristol walked over to the bar and talked to the bald guy who yelled at her. The conversation went like this:

Dude: “Your mother’s the devil! If there is a hell, which I don’t believe there is one, she will be there!”

Bristol: “Why do you hate my mom? Is it because you’re a homosexual?”

Dude: “Pretty much!”

Bristol: “That’s why you don’t like my mom!”

Dude: “She instigates anger and hate!”

Bristol: “You haven’t given me one example.”

Dude: “You know what? I met Levi here. He’s so much more of a gentleman than you.”

Bristol: “Yeah, well, he hasn’t seen his child in a year.”

Now, I don’t care where you fall on the political spectrum. (For the record, I voted for Kodos.) We can all agree that there is no part of this argument that is remotely defensible: not for the dude at the bar who used hurtful language and took a bunch of sub-Keith Olbermann cheap shots; not for Bristol, who approached the dude surrounded by her cameras and acted like his sexuality was the topic of the debate; not the Life’s a Tripp producers who edited this argument in such a way that it was impossible to tell how much was chopped out to heighten the drama.

The only part of Life’s a Tripp that didn’t feel stage managed came afterwards, when Bristol walked tall out of the bar and then immediately fled to the shadows to call her sometimes-boyfriend Gino. She said: “I have a ton of cameras on me and a ton of paparazzi. This is not fair. This is not fun.” Again, the blunt lack of self-awareness was shocking. The cameras were filming her reality show. She chose to visit a large bar in paparazzi central. Life is not fair. Nobody ever said show business was fun. The world’s smallest violin will always play for the famous person who complains about being famous.

When the premiere concluded with Bristol alone in her big borrowed mansion, holding her son in her arms, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. When most of us were 17, we were just starting to figure out how to be a person. Bristol Palin was only ever allowed to be a personality. Her story could make a great TV show. But Life’s a Tripp is just awful.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Read more:

Bristol Palin responds to Obama’s gay marriage announcement by dissing ‘Glee’

Lifetime orders Bristol Palin docuseries

Bristol Palin returns to TV

Levi Johnston tells all

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