Even by the shameless standards of reality TV, Lil' Kim: Countdown to Lockdown has to be a new low.
That's what some readers are sure to think when they hear about the new series starting tonight on BET that chronicles the final two weeks of freedom for the diminutive rap star before she began serving a 366-day prison sentence for lying to a grand jury Sept. 19.
They will probably be further troubled by my characterization of the six-part series - based on seeing the first half-hour made available to critics - as a celebration of Lil' Kim that tries to explain away any sense of criminality on her part.
But before getting too outraged, consider the way much of the mainstream media portrayed Martha Stewart as a victim before she went to jail - also for lying to federal investigators. Ditto on the kid-gloves-celebrity treatment that some sportscasters gave to the Baltimore Ravens football players who ran afoul of the law - linebacker Ray Lewis and running back Jamal Lewis.
For those not familiar with her case, Lil' Kim was convicted of false testimony to a federal grand jury about a shootout involving members of her entourage outside a New York City radio station in 2001. But the first 10 minutes of the half-hour program are spent trying to paint the rapper as a victim of overzealous government prosecutors.
The first image viewers see is Lil' Kim looking straight into the camera as she says: "My name is Kimberly "Lil' Kim" Jones, and I am innocent."
Mel Sachs, an attorney, follows her onscreen, saying in several different ways that she was victimized - until it feels more like a political ad or propaganda film than a prime-time TV entertainment show.
But, then, Kim sounds the I-will-survive theme that drives the rest of Episode 1: "Throughout my life and my career, I have been a survivor. I mean, anyone who knows Lil' Kim, knows I have hurdled some obstacles."
In case the message hasn't taken hold, there's a chorus of fans saying such things as: "She's going in [to prison] like a warrior, and I believe she can handle it."
Viewers follow Lil' Kim and her entourage around to publicity functions - from meet-and-greet sessions with her fans, to a stop at Atlantic Records to screen her new video. Be warned: A certain four-letter word is used repeatedly - with ethnic and racial insults further peppering the conversations among members of her team.
And it is all publicity - masquerading as documentary - for the rapper her fans call Queen Bee.
For those who care about such things, Lil' Kim hates the video and lets everyone at Atlantic Records know how she feels as she sulkily drowns her sorrow in a bag of fast food from McDonald's: "I have to be shot in a certain light," she says, sounding like she did post-graduate studies in high diva at the School of Greta Garbo. "I'm a chameleon. That means my looks change."
Right on, Warrior Kim.