Though it has been less than a year since the finale to E! network’s Keeping Up with The Kardashians aired in June 2021, the Kardashians and their supporting characters’ (aka baby daddies) domination of headlines—Kanye and Kim’s divorce, the tragedy at Travis Scott’s Astroworld, Tristan Thompson’s new baby mama, the relentless PDA of Kravis; plus, even stranger events such as Kim appearing to photoshop her niece True’s face over her other niece Stormi’s body on social media—have expanded those pandemic-era ten months into uninterrupted Kardashian content, finally ready to be aired to the masses.
The origin for the premiere’s title, “Burn Them All to the F*cking Ground,” comes at the last moment, signaling a major tone change that highlights the brittle image of the famous family. In a time of major geopolitical crises, inequality, and a global pandemic, the Kardashians’ displays of excessive wealth and constant tabloid attention hits much differently than when they first premiered in 2007.
In time-traveling back to fall 2021, we see there’s darkness the Kardashian world of excessive wealth, privilege, and glamour can’t blot out—Kim battles the existence and release of another sex tape, betrayal lies ahead of Khloe’s fragile “friendship” with Tristan, and even Kourtney’s newfound happiness barely eclipses the dysfunction of her prior decades-long relationship with Scott Disick. Scott, a non-Kardashian still included in this series, wonders aloud if he “means anything to anyone” in the family as Kourtney moves on with the “love of [her] life” Travis Barker, longtime neighbor best known as the drummer of Blink-182.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed businesswoman Kris namedrops all of her enterprises in her first confessional. For most of the first episode, Kris seems the most lifelike as the only one comfortable back in front of the camera—after all, all publicity is good publicity. Ka-ching. Kourtney comes in as the runner-up because, in her own words, she’ll “continue to live [her] life and pretend no one’s watching.”
Although a family barbecue sets the scene and reminds viewers that all of the sisters are mothers, save Kendall, there’s nothing family-friendly about the Hulu show, which airs on Disney+ in the UK, Australia, and Canada. (Not even the questionably convenient entrance of Roblox, the children’s game that Kim’s son Saint plays, has a PG reason for appearing.) The wider and sharper shots allow the viewer to catch the most subtle shifts in body language as, the cast stands out in their giant interior living spaces, magnifying awkwardness, and disinterest in various cast members.
In one painful moment, Travis slowly gropes Kourtney in a groan-inducing close-up. Later, Kourtney briefly appears to affirm to her nine-year-old daughter Penelope an agreement for less PDA, which doesn’t seem to last long. Despite the yucky PDA, Kourtney-in-love provides a warmer arc to bolster the blandness of the wealthy clan. Meanwhile, Kim comes across as particularly self-conscious and solitary as she goes through preparation for her upcoming gig at SNL. Her entourage of stylists and hairdressers make down-to-earth or soothing comments with their heads often cut off by the camera’s framing of Kim, foregrounding her lonely time in the spotlight.
While Kim and co. fight to banish evidence of a second sex tape, the episode immortalizes the clash. For what? To turn Kim into an underdog protagonist amid inevitable future scandals? Seeing as the show serves as the Kardashians’ direct channel for their image and messaging, we will certainly find out how they mold the nebulous Kim K this time. From valley girl wannabe stylist in the 2000s to multi-hyphenate Skims founder today, just as girlbossification is dying out (as evidenced by Kim’s poorly-received “get off your a** and work” comments), Kim and the team will do their best to control the external narrative with this new show just as they did with the last one.
The high-end production changes in screen ratio, lighting, and Steadicams are intended to elevate the family further, likely meant to give a Disney-funded docuseries feel over the kooky and staged original series, offering uncanny valley instead. In an almost self-aware instant, Kim says at a dinner with Khloe and Kourtney, she would like to operate like a robot, regarding prompter wardrobe selection. There’s no sense that Kim even enjoys getting dolled up in designer anymore—much of the fun is gone. In the first ten minutes, she also says, “I hate talking about myself.” Huh? What kind of reality show star are you anymore, Kim?
So like the french fries and mini burgers served in silver serving chafers in the premiere’s barbecue, the glossy and dressed-up series can’t hide the murky content and lack of emotional nutrition. Reality television, including OG Keeping Up, has regularly received the blanket descriptor of “trashy,” but on The Kardashians, the adjective feels rather earned.