'I Am Cait' Review: Brave, Tasteful — And Kind Of Boring
ARUN RATH, HOST:
Caitlyn Jenner's new reality show, ”I Am Cait,” premieres on E! tonight.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I AM CAIT")
CAITLYN JENNER: Isn't it great that maybe someday you'll be normal? Just blend into society.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We are - you are normal.
JENNER: Put it this way - I'm the new normal.
RATH: It's from the same producers who brought us "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" and "The Real World." So I asked Willa Paskin, Slate's television critic, if Jenner's show is just as invasive, exploitive and crass as the reality shows we're used to.
WILLA PASKIN: Well, I think also people were worried that Caitlyn Jenner would sort of use it as an excuse to be a Kardashian - be self-aggrandizing or trashy in some capacity. That's no slight on the Kardashians, which I enjoy very much - the television program. But they're not, you know, synonymous with classiness, I guess, in the sort of American lexicon.
So it isn't anything like that. The show is very, very sincere. I think it takes its mission to be the face of transgenderism in America very, very seriously. You can feel the respectability politics sort of roiling under the surface of the show.
RATH: Let's hear a clip. This is how the series starts. It's 4:30 in the morning and Jenner can't sleep.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I AM CAIT")
JENNER: We don't want people dying over this. We don't want people murdered over this stuff. Am I going to do everything right? Am I going to say the right things? Do I project the right image? My mind's just spinning with thoughts. I just hope I get it right.
RATH: And you kind of expect that self-consciousness from reality TV people, but not with that kind of level of depth.
PASKIN: It's an interesting thing, which is what makes someone a good human being in life does not always make someone really great to watch on television. And there's a certain amount of, you know, self-aggrandizement and self-obsession that is necessary to being as entertaining on TV as the best people to watch on TV really are. And sort of thinking only about people other than yourself and other people not dying and other people not being murdered is incredibly noble and is also not super actionable to film.
RATH: You're saying it's kind of, well, the drama's there - it's kind of dull.
PASKIN: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, the drama is so much less there than you would expect. You think about Pedro Zamora on one of the third seasons of the "Real World," which is he was sort of the public face of someone who had AIDS. And he was so what a good guy. Like, he was an activist. He was in a really dedicated relationship. He was lovely and sweet. But the thing about that show - that season of the "Real World" - he had this sort of counterpoint - this kind of maniac named Puck who brought some of the drama you expect from a show like the "Real World."
And so that piece is a little bit missing from "I Am Cait." There's nobody else who is crying or reacting to her or having a fit or even getting angry or seeming even really deeply, you know, roiled-up about the changes that she's undergone, which, you know, it's like her child - one of her daughters comes to visit her. Her mother comes to visit her in the first episodes, and they react beautifully, but so calmly.
You know, and you just think like there's got to be a little more going on here for them. This is a - you know, this is a big deal in their lives presumably. And even they are sort of portrayed in this extremely calm way.
RATH: So in the end, you know, weighing all of these factors and stipulating this is not any kind of a judgment on Caitlyn Jenner personally, is it a good show?
PASKIN: I mean, that's the thing I was very careful to try to thread this needle because I think Caitlyn Jenner is - I mean, has been so brave. And I commend even the way that she's done the show. I think it shows that she has a lot of integrity and a lot of good taste. But it is kind of a boring television show.
RATH: Willa Paskin is Slate's television critic. Willa, thank you.
PASKIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.