The Kardashians are back, but you’d be forgiven for not noticing that they were ever gone. It’s been less than a year since E! aired the series finale of Keeping Up with the Kardashianspretty much the normal time between seasons of a TV show.
In the 10 months that the Kardashians have been absent from our TV screens, they’ve essentially monopolized every other screen, as active on Instagram as ever. They’ve made headlines week after week with divorce drama, cheating rumors, an engagement, a high-profile budding relationship, a surprise birth announcement, and a short-lived revival of the sex tape scandal that started it all.
And yet, all of the promotional materials for the new Hulu reality show The Kardashians hinge on the “they’re back” messaging reminiscent of a sing-songy horror movie refrain. For the show to work, it is imperative for us to believe that the famous family is returning from a significant hiatus and it is a Very Big Deal.
Indeed, the homecoming theme echoes throughout the series premiere, with the reality-TV vets frequently remarking on how strange it feels to be back in front of a camera crew after a long break from filming. Kim says in a confessional that she hates talking about herself, which, OK, sure you do, and Khloe remarks to the family that filming gives her anxiety. (Momager Kris, ever-committed to securing the bag, epically replies, “Just suck it up.”)
The Kardashians sees reality television’s First Family moving from E!, their network TV home of 14 years, to Disney-owned streaming service Hulu. The series is part of a massive, multi-year global content deal between the KarJenner clan and the House of Mouse, inked in 2020. The new series has a more expensive, polished look—think docuseries rather than reality series. Other than that, however, it closely resembles the original show in tone, themes, and format.
Episodes are composed of brief vignettes of each family member’s life, sometimes with all of them or different combinations of them coming together for meals and celebrations. (With more control over filming schedules and personal projects and relationships forcing them to be in different geographic locations, they do film separately more often than they did on Keeping Up.) Tonally, The Kardashians features the familiar balance of unfiltered, lightly raunchy humor and emotional family drama.
When the show picks up, Kim is prepping for her Saturday Night Live hosting gig, Khloe is happily co-parenting with Tristan, Kendall has COVID-19, Kylie is six months pregnant, and Kris is waking up at 4 am every day to begin her busy schedule of girlbossing. Kourtney has been open-mouth making out with Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker all over Southern California. As the trailers foreshadowed, The Kardashians smartly devotes plenty of camera time to the eldest sister’s whirlwind romance with the punk rocker. Fans expecting any dirt on Kim’s relationship with comedian Pete Davidson or her unbelievably messy divorce from Kanye West will not find it in the first couple of episodes, which were filmed before that fateful October day when Kim and Pete were photographed holding hands on a roller coaster .
I wrote in my review of the Keeping Up with the Kardashians finale last year that the Kardashians have transcended the need for the show, and there’s nothing in the two episodes of the new series made available for review that convinces me otherwise. With their omnipresence on social media, they’ve outrun the pace of TV production. Even 8-year-old North is on TikTok now, much to Kanye’s grief. We already know the gender of Kylie’s baby formerly known as Wolf Webster, we know Kim passes the baby Bar Exam on her fourth try, and we have seen an entire photo album’s worth of pictures of Kourtney and Travis’ engagement. There are literally zero stakes. It’s difficult to think of another show that so transparently exists solely to make its billionaire subjects even richer.
“There are literally zero stakes. It’s difficult to think of another show that so transparently exists solely to make its billionaire subjects even richer.”
But really, it would be silly to argue that Keeping Up with the Kardashians was ever truly necessary (well, except at the beginning for its fame-hungry stars). It was never an Emmy-worthy work of art, and it was never trying to be. It was always about the pure, unadulterated entertainment value of watching Kim go apeshit over losing her diamond earring in the Tahitian ocean and Kris reprimanding her for taking selfies on the way to bail Khloe out of jail. In the later seasons, it was about alternately rolling your eyes and voyeuristically ogling the increasingly excessive displays of wealth—over-the-top birthday parties for infants who won’t remember them, a $120 million COVID safe house just 20 miles away from their own luxury homes.
As was the case with its predecessor, The Kardashians will likely draw the ire of morally superior online critics who, in this year of our Lord 2022, still think it is subversive to hate these women—and the entire reality-TV genre, for that matter—for being vapid and trashy. We know! That’s why it’s fun! (Critiquing them for their numerous tone-deaf missteps is a different, far more valid take.) But while it may not offer anything new or especially revelatory, the new series will satisfy fans of the original show who are perfectly content watching the sisters sit in each other’s pristine kitchens in full glam, picking at comically large salads and gossiping about Scott Disick’s latest 21-year-old girlfriend.
The Kardashians premieres on Hulu on April 14. Meanwhile, somewhere in Calabasas, one of the women is probably spending her Disney check on a Birkin bag for her toddler.