Think back: Was there ever a time when the Kardashian label wasn’t skillfully stitched into the fabric of our cultural jodhpurs? When Kim’s outline wasn’t written in stars across the heavens, one of the constellations in the pantheon of perfect women, alongside Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj? Was there, in short, a pre-Kardashian era of human existence?
The answer, according to season one, episode one of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, is a firm No.
Hello. I’m Kevin, unworthy acolyte of the Church of Kim, devoted A-lister in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, and author of Kim K: Trapped in Her Own Game. Season One of KUWTK will be leaving Netflix at the end of this month, so this may be our last chance to revisit those early days, to pay homage not only to Kim, but to how far we’ve come as a people under her divine light.
In episode one, we begin — as all TV families begin — in manufactured crisis. House Kardashian has been called upon by House Tyra. Tyra Banks wants Kim to appear on her show and talk about the Sex Tape (Kim has a sex tape. Also: It’s 2007!). Should Kim do it? Is she really ready to talk about her sex tape on TV? Well, I mean, we’re watching her right now, on a TV show, talking about her sex tape, so probably it’s fine?
But before we have time to consider the issue too carefully, there is also the matter of mother Kris and husband Bruce Jenner’s wedding anniversary. Preparations have begun, but there’s a Problem (unless otherwise mentioned, there’s always a Problem): Kris and daughter Kourtney have decided to get wasted beforehand, under the flimsy guise of “choosing wines for the party” (which is already under way, but no matter).
Will Kim talk about the sex tape on Tyra? Will Kris make it to her own anniversary party? Why is the other sister, Khloé, so at ease constantly talking about Kim’s boobs and butt? Also, hold on: Who are these people again? Why is there a show about them? Do we want to talk about that at all?
Watching now, there’s a sense that this show was already underway before the cameras were even set up. Look, the Kardashians said: We are going to be on TV, and whether or not anyone films anything is someone else’s problem. You can almost feel the crew feverishly setting up cameras and lighting before the family enters the room. If it’s unclear why any of this is being filmed, be patient. The show is a foregone conclusion. Just watch, and something amazing will happen.
“Why did you make a sex tape?” Kourtney asks Kim, conducting a mock interview to prepare Kim for Tyra’s fierce smize.
Kim reclines luxuriously on the couch. “Because I was horny and felt like it,” she says, and my iPhone heart explodes in nail-polish emojis.
Should we talk about Kim? Because it’s her, it’s Kim, it’s soooo Kim, but it’s also not quite Kim. Looking at season one Kim is like looking at the Now Kim (the True Kim) through a Vaseline-smeared lens. We recognize her, but she’s different, blurry, just out of focus. Her face is a little rounder, maybe, her voice a little softer. The confidence, the sense of divine purpose on this Earth is there, but it’s not *lightning bolts* Kim Fucking Kardashian. But knowing who she is now, and seeing who she was then, knowing what is going to happen to this person, is an incredibly delicious feeling. Like when you find out a friend hasn’t seen Fast & Furious 3: Tokyo Drift, and you’re like, what? we're watching it right now! And you know that they are going to love it because it is the best, and they are about to have the most amazing experience of their life, and you get to sit there and watch it magically unfold. Like that.
Anyway, the show. The Tyra appearance goes fine. The anniversary party goes fine. There’s a weird, third subplot about Kourtney’s boyfriend Scott, but who cares about him. Kris doesn’t like him, but no one likes him. He’s terrible, men are terrible. Men are completely secondary in this family, and rightfully so.
As if to underscore this point, episode two has Bruce taking the dog to the vet, and then ferrying Kylie and Kendall, his younger daughters with Kris, to the spa. We’re on episode two, and we’re already devoting actual screentime to a man taking a dog to a vet. Surely once the show finds its feet, the plot points will become more skillfully intertwined? (They won’t.)
So we focus instead on Kris, who in her harried life as mom, momager, and children’s boutique owner, not necessarily in that order, schedules Kim for an appearance at the most low-budget excuse for a fashion show in history. And then she double-books Kim’s calendar. How can Kim be at a photo shoot and an audition at the same time? Kris takes no responsibility in either case. She’s just doing her job.
Kim, at the urging of her sisters, takes meetings with other potential managers. She conducts these meetings not at their offices, like a normal person would do in real life, but at her mom’s house. Before we have time to stop and thoughtfully pose with our fingers to our chins and wonder if this will be a Problem, it’s a Problem. Kris leaves work? to “clean up” the house? and discovers the secret meetings. There are episodes of Frasier that feel less staged, but okay.
Kris has had it. She fires Kim before Kim can fire her, something every mom longs to do. She puts Kim’s number on her voice-mail so people can bother her directly, hires a nanny to help Bruce out around the home, turns her phone off, and spends the day at the spa.
Kim’s phone is blowing up without the protective layer of her momager’s shield. Bree, the sexy nanny whom no one interviewed in advance, is sunbathing topless and trying on Kris’s jewelry. Bruce stands helplessly by, holding a limp hose as he waters the lawn, watching her smoke a cigarette, in one of the most aggressively anti-sexual scenes in TV history.
Kris arrives home and is confronted by a furious Kim and a super hot nanny. “Why didn’t you tell her to leave?” Kris asks Bruce. “I wanted you to meet her,” he replies, which is right and true. We all did. After firing the nanny, Kim and Kris have some sort of heart-to-heart. It’s hard to tell exactly what they say because Khloe and Kourtney are playfully fistfighting and beating each other up in the room behind them. Hey, look, they seem to be saying. We’re on this show, too. Again, in case anyone is confused by plots having to do with Kris’s skill as a manager, or Khloe and Kourtney just kind of hanging around in the background of the show, this is season one, not every other season.
Episode three opens with an all-too-familiar situation that has plagued families since time immemorial: The Phone Call From Joe Francis, Creator of Girls Gone Wild, Who Is in Jail But Wants to Invite You and Your Sisters to His House in Puerto Vallarta for a Photo Shoot to Promote a Line of Bikinis.
I was 15 when my mom got this call. As she hung up the phone and told me the news, I chided her, unsupportive and callous about the weighty decision at hand, as kids so often are. She regarded me very coldly and said, "I hope you have kids one day, and when you do, I hope Joe Francis, the creator of Girls Gone Wild, calls you from prison and invites you down to his house in Puerto Vallarta to participate in a bikini photo shoot, so you know how it feels." My children are now 11 and 8 and I live in fear.
They’ll go, of course, but Kris decides to tell Bruce they’re simply headed to Mexico for a girls weekend. He’ll worry too much if he knows they’re going to model bikinis, because he has little to do besides fret that women who’ve agreed to have their lives filmed for a reality-TV show might do something untoward.
Bruce goes golfing with his son Brody, who has popped over from his higher-profile gig on The Hills (!). Brody randomly! very casually! for, like, no reason! asks if his father has heard how the Mexican bikini shoot is going.
Bruce is stunned at this revelation. Line? he whispers. I can’t believe they lied to me about the nature of their trip, but luckily, I have uncovered their ruse! a voice whisper-shouts back from the bushes.
Bruce hurries off to Mexico, leaving young Kylie (10 years old!) and Kendall (12 years old!) in the last-minute care of handsome layabout Brody because he is worried about what his wife and stepdaughters, who are actual grown adults capable of making their own decisions, might do in his absence.
With everyone off to Mexico, Kendall and Kylie spend the weekend in full hormonal flourish, whipping Brody and his manager Frankie with belts, tying them to Mom and Dad’s stripper pole and filming their own makeshift Girls Gone Wild video using an archaic video camera that happens to be lying around, which of course they know how to use, which of course will happen to be left out for Bruce to watch in horror at the end of the episode. (“It’s more of a belly-button show,” one of them [I’m still not sure which is which, or if it matters] says).
Is this the death of the sanctity of family? Or the triumph of reality TV over appropriate parenting strategies? I don't know, honestly, I just want Kylie and Kendall to have their own show. They seem genetically engineered for a life on camera. Their personal brands are so much more clearly defined than Khloé and Kourtney’s at this point. (There’s also apparently a brother named Rob? He didn't even matter on season one. Poor Rob.)
Bruce flies to Mexico to confront his family at Joe Francis’s villa, as one does. The photo shoot ends. Bruce and Kris’s feud ends. The episode ends. Kylie and Kendall remain alive. We’ve all learned an important lesson about something, probably.
Episode four begins with another phone call. This time, it’s Playboy, asking Kim to pose for its December celebrity issue. But will she have to pose nude? Kim hopes No. Kris says No. Hugh says Yes. After an entire episode’s worth of will-she-won’t-we-when-we-know-she-will, she does. Kim poses nude, but draped in pearls. She looks amazing. Everyone agrees.
“If you’re not sweating, you’re not working,” Bruce says to Kim during a workout session. “That’s so not true,” Kim says.
But what is the work of Keeping Up With the Kardashians? There is no sense in these episodes of Kim working to craft her brand, her career, her life. She is already ***FLAWLESS, the earthly embodiment of I Woke Up Lih Dis.
Whenever we might get a hint that Kim is not in fact famous for nothing, that actually she has worked very hard to achieve everything she has, the camera cuts quickly away. How did that appearance on Tyra really go? How humiliating was it for her at the totally crappy runway show where everyone around her was trash, but she still went out there and gave her all? Joe Francis snaps his gross jail fingers and she has to spend the weekend getting yelled at by a crabby fashion designer? There’s probably a lot going on in those moments, but the show only hints at them.
All we know is that Kim has already leveled up. The show is less about her rise to stardom, or her family’s struggles in the wake of it, and more about her wait for us to catch up, a recording of the time she spent while the world realigned itself around her as the reality she already perceived to be true.
Later, perhaps, the show can let go of its misguided framework as a halfhearted reality show about a cRazY family and become what it needs to be, what it always should have been: a documentary about a perfect woman, the semi-interesting women who share her bloodline, and the NPC men who cower in the shadows around them.
We’ll get there eventually. One day, all will be as Kim has foreseen. We still have four more episodes of season one to get through though.
- I actually like the house from this season a lot? It seems reasonably sized and realistically messy. It’s an actual home, not a depressing paean to prosperity like they’ll all live in later. I visit Kim’s Calabasas mansion in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood and think, I do not want to live here.
- Bree the hot nanny later went on to a very successful career in porn, so good for her. She has 804,000 followers on Twitter. Robert Tisdale, the talent manager whose meeting with Kim Kris interrupts, has 400. (Seems like he focuses more on his Facebook presence.)
- At this point, I count two dogs who share space with the the Kardashians: a Great Dane and a chihuahua. It seems odd, though, that in these early episodes we never see both dogs in the same episode at the same time. In my heart, there is a fourth Kardashian sister who has been cursed by a warlock with a propensity for shape-shifting spells.
- I don’t know why, but I still get an eerie chill up my spine every time I see Ryan Seacrest’s name as Executive Producer at the start of each episode. It’s probably nothing.