I'm a big believer in the value of guilty pleasures. A great deal of satisfaction can be gained by turning off the discerning, analytical part of one's brain and gorging on the entertainment equivalent of junk food. Now available on DVD, the first season of E!'s Keeping Up With the Kardashians fits that bill to a tee.
I'm not a very avid viewer of reality-based shows in general. For a variety of reasons, many of the families who open up their lives to television cameras wind up seeming reprehensible. That's what I enjoy about the Kardashian clan; for the most part, they come across like a normal family. Granted, we only see what they want us to see (as with any show of this kind). Their considerable financial wealth makes their lifestyle a little hard to relate to at times. And it must be said, aside from Bruce Jenner's Olympic accomplishments in the past (not the focal point of this show), the family hasn't displayed any particularly arresting talents.
Yet I continue to watch, mostly because I find these people ultimately very likeable. Even amidst the various adult themes found in these eight episodes (Kim's sex tape, Kourtney's sex pictures, Kim and her mom posing for Playboy, to name a few examples), what always dominates is a strong sense of family unity. Despite the snarky comments thrown around by all, the Kardashians remain emotionally grounded by their love and respect for one another.
Ostensibly focused on Kim's various attempts at establishing a showbiz career, Keeping Up With the Kardashians is really an ensemble piece. The first of these eight episodes quickly assigns a superficial identity to each family member. Kris Kardashian is the ex-wife of the late attorney Robert Kardashian (who was part of the defense team during O.J. Simpson's murder trial). She manages her daughter Kim, who is trying to find her niche beyond being a socialite.
Kim and her sisters, Kourtney (the eldest) and Khloe (the youngest), run a family-owned clothing store, DASH. Less visible are the girls' brother, Rob Jr., and half-sisters Kendall and Kylie (the latter two are the product of Kris' current marriage to Bruce Jenner). Bruce, the befuddled dad, plays straight man to all the ensuing drama.
As always with reality-based shows, the line between actual and staged events is blurred. When Kim decides to hire another manager in the second episode, "Managing Mom," it is impossible to say whether there was ever a real intent to fire her mother. In the third episode, "Brody In the House," it's hard to know if Bruce truly wasn't aware of the real purpose of his wife and daughter's trip to Mexico (i.e. business instead of pleasure). The fifth episode, "Remembering Dad," even includes a disclaimer admitting certain events have been recreated (though it isn't clear which ones). As with any guilty pleasure, it's probably best not to invest too much thought in such matters. The point is simply to enjoy watching people indulging in the extravagances only the wealthy can afford.
The real star of Keeping Up With the Kardashians is Khloe. She comes across, by far, as the most interesting of the family. While Kim and Kourtney are fairly stunning in their natural beauty, Khloe wasn't as blessed in the physical appearance department. That's not to say she is unattractive, but her unusually large stature leaves her looking like the "odd man out" in this extremely photogenic family. I think maybe growing up in the shadow of two very easy-on-the-eyes sisters contributed to her outspoken brashness. Far from the "bitch" she apparently regards herself as, Khloe appears far wiser and more mature than her older sisters. She provides the funniest, and most cutting, remarks and observations throughout the eight-episode season. Kim often seems too self-absorbed to inspire a huge amount of sympathy. Kourtney has a rather flat, disaffected quality that is hard to warm up to. Again, as I've said, they are difficult to dislike, but they aren't all that interesting. Khloe, a tad envious of the perks attained by her prettier sisters, manages to add more depth to the frothy proceedings.
Less impressive is the degree to which Kendall and Kylie are utilized, ages 12 and 10 respectively. I honestly don't think Kris or Bruce intended any harmful exploitation, but these girls simply aren't old enough to know the possible ramifications of having their lives (albeit heavily edited) broadcast for the world to see. It is worth questioning whether or not children should play such a role in reality-based television. When they are seen imitating the drunken co-eds of Girls Gone Wild, it should be remembered that there are degenerates in our society who get off on that sort of thing. As innocent as it all is in the context of this show, perhaps more caution ought to be exercised. Making these very young girls vulnerable to the obsessions of the lowest of the low, all for a laugh, is reckless and not worth the risks involved. At least Bruce seems to recognize this in his very authentic-sounding displeasure at the sight of his daughter hanging upside-down on a stripper pole.
The DVD presents Keeping Up With the Kardashians in 4×3 full screen format, exactly as seen on TV. The no-frills presentation, coupled with the abundance of reruns shown on E!, begs the question: is this single-disc release worth purchasing? If you're already a fan I'd say yes, because of the extras.
The "Junk In the Trunk" featurette, although expanded with a few bits of "never-before-seen footage," is essentially the blooper/outtake reel that was previously aired. More interesting are the episode commentaries that provide alternate audio tracks for seven of the eight episodes (the series premiere is unadorned). Featuring a pair of Kardashians per commentary, don't expect much in the way of revelation.
The producers must have mandated there be no discussion of the inner workings of the show. We don't achieve a greater understanding of how much is staged or how the editing process shaped the various storylines. Instead, the tracks are mostly superficial observations focusing on the physical appearance of anyone onscreen. Luckily, Khloe turns up on several episodes and again provides a healthy dose of sarcasm and self-deprecation. Her constant (and sometimes contradictory) self-scrutiny is more honest and interesting than the endless variations of "Oh my God, her hair is SO cute!"