CAIT IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Jenner’s new TV series is a substantial addition to the reality TV genre and the Kardashian universe,
I Am Cait
(out of 4) Docu-series starring Caitlyn Jenner, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West. Debuts on E! Sunday at 8 p.m.
It’s funny to think that after almost a decade of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Caitlyn Jenner was the most thoroughly uninteresting character on the show.
There was Kim with her sex tapes and a superstar rapper husband, Khloe getting arrested for DUI and marrying a Los Angeles Laker, and Kylie and Kendall going supersonic with their modelling and fashion careers.
But the character formerly known as Bruce was the most unglamorous of the bunch. Who knew Jenner would turn out to be the most intriguing?
Jenner was the proxy for the viewer, the reliable narrator who allowed us to navigate the crazy amped-up world of the Kardashian family. She would be the first to question why T-shirts cost $300.
As a subject, Jenner seemed positively boring. A celebrated Olympian, sure, but in the Twitterverse, that was so last century.
And now there is I Am Cait, which premieres on E! Sunday at 8 p.m.
This is the latest spinoff series from a channel that begat the burgeoning Kardashian multimedia universe, but it is also the most substantial.
It has moved the needle from topics such as the obsession with the size of Kim’s posterior to a wider and far more important conversation. In this case, Jenner has hit the transgender tipping point.
From the media attention given to suicides of at-risk youth to TV shows like Transparent and Orange is the New Black, transgender issues have never been more at the forefront.
And the once-celebrated decathlete has turned out to be an unlikely spokesperson.
I Am Cait opens with Jenner confronted with the weight of expectations and wondering if she can hold up to the scrutiny.
“I can’t sleep. I feel bad young people are going through such a difficult time,” she says. “What a responsibility I have . . . I hope I get it right.”
The premiere hits many emotional high points. Jenner, 65, visits with the mother of a teen who has taken his life and talks to a counsellor about issues facing transgender youth.
Particularly poignant is the meeting of Jenner with her mother, Esther, for the first time as her true self.
Even the simple act of signing a birthday card for her mother using her new name becomes a momentous occasion.
“You never talked to me. I never knew you had a problem,” says Esther to Caitlyn.
Later she admits, “He’s a very goodlooking woman.”
Esther has many relevant questions, including asking a counsellor how to interpret what the Bible says about men wearing women’s clothes. In the end though, she seems to come around.
“I am more proud of him for the courage he has shown” than when Jenner was on the podium winning gold medals, her mother says.
There is, of course, the obligatory visits by Kim and Kanye West and by Jenner’s daughter Kendall, just in case we alienate the traditional Kardashian viewer.
Jenner’s mom and sister seem far more fascinated by the fact that Kanye doesn’t lace up his sneakers than the fact Jenner is wearing a dress.
Kim goes into Jenner’s closet that is now littered with donated designer duds, including a Tom Ford outfit that is also in the closet of ex-wife Kris.
“Wouldn’t it be great if we ended up at the same place in the same outfit?” asks Jenner. Yes, that would be priceless. Kendall, meanwhile, helps Jenner out with her hair.
“Isn’t this more fun than watching sports on TV?” quips Cait.
In many ways I Am Cait is more of an extension of the earlier ABC Diane Sawyer interview than your typical E! show. The first episode needed to set the stage about the enormity of the issue. It also needs to go beyond that in future episodes so it does get bogged down as one epic public service announcement.
Jenner makes a fine spokesperson. But she is careful to acknowledge she has had the advantages of fame, money and backing that many do not have. Not everyone has Lady Gaga and Elton John tweeting their support.
A preview of upcoming episodes suggests that the series might delve into thornier issues, such as life as a transgender sex worker and, if the editing is to be believed, it looks like there may be some friction between Jenner and other members of the Kardashian family, with Kim saying, “You don’t have to bash us on the way up.”
This is likely to be a monster hit for E!, since it is finally a show about celebrity that seems to address something that is greater than the importance of celebrity itself. Who knew that E could stand for educational?