Season Two of Keeping Up With the Kardashians only began its televised run in March 2008. But somehow it already feels like ancient history.
Now that most of the show’s cast (which includes Kris Kardashian’s children with both the late Robert Kardashian and her current husband, the former olympian Bruce Jenner) are tabloid fodder as much as they are reality stars, the events of their lives are almost always been covered on E!’s celebrity news programming months before they are covered on E!’s prime-time reality programming. And this can be a big problem on a show which already has a hard time making its feeble attempts at inducing tension produce any kind of drama. Lame plotlines, like oldest daughter Kourtney’s discovery that boyfriend Scott may sometimes like to hang out with the guys instead of her, seem even lamer when you can go to TMZ and read about her plans for delivery of the baby she’s expecting with Scott this coming December.
The heavily scripted nature of the show also suffers as a result of the cast’s visibility in less story-boarded venues. The girls’ monotone readings of plot suggestions given to them by the producers (“Hey guys. I have an awesome idea. For real.”) are delivered with less enthusiasm than even their peers on The Hills are able to muster, and generally confuse “wacky” with “funny” or “interesting”. (Let’s raise chickens in the bathroom! Let’s pay migrant workers to do our household chores!) And when Perez Hilton routinely lets you know that tomboy Khloe has no trouble finding an endless stream of professional athletes to date, her sisters’ “crazy” plan to create an online dating profile for their “chronically-single” sibling becomes even less believable.
There’s also a weird gap between the wholesomeness of the show’s silly little scenarios and the more scandalous antics of the cast-mates in real life. In one episode, for example, most-famous sister Kim makes a sexy calendar for the private use of her boyfriend, NFL star Reggie Bush, only to find out her mother is selling copies to the public. It’s an obvious allusion to the sex-tape, starring Kim and her ex-beau R&B singer Ray J, which first shot the young celebutante to fame after it was released for sale, but the reminder of Kim’s real-life embarrassments is oddly discomfiting. Shows like The Simple Life got a lot of their humor through the deadpan way they chose to ignore their heroes real-life reputations, but Keeping Up With the Kardashians can’t seem to decide which side of the line between silly and dramatic it wants to be on.
To be fair, though, the show does manage to fit some surprisingly raw depictions of family conflict in with its episodes about hiring gay fashion consultants or the effectiveness of Kim’s butt in a martial arts setting. Unlike E!’s other primetime hitThe Girls Next Door, which contrasts its cast’s strange living arrangements and soft-core porn careers with the stylings of a traditional family sitcom, Keeping Up With the Kardashians is about a real family, and one which is under a crazy amount of outside pressure (even if they do kind of bring it on themselves). Kris and Bruce are older, and supposedly wiser, than their children, but they are far less well-versed in the ways of 21st century celebrity, and as a result are often adorably honest while on camera, whether it’s Kris with her obvious desire to just be one of the girls when she’s supposed to be a mother, or Bruce and his old-fashioned family values, which generally fail to impress the wayward flock of girls under his care.
These moments are almost sweet, but things take an uglier turn towards the end of the season when the entire family finds itself in conflict with Kim over the diva-like attitude her slightly higher level of fame has given her. A minor argument is probably being exaggerated to serve the plot needs of multiple episodes, sure, but the fact that the show does not shy away from the subtext hidden in so many of these shows, that the pursuit of fame motivates and influences the actions of so many of the cast-members we see on camera, makes Season 2 something of a rarity in the reality television world.