Retro Recap: Keeping up with the Kardashians

So, it is probably fairly obvious if you follow this blog that Keeping up with the Kardashians is not the kind of show that any of us at Adversion would normally be watching. But my friend S. is turning twenty-nine tomorrow, so I am—at her request—writing a recap of an episode of her favorite show. Funnily enough, in this episode, being twenty-nine is a huge plot point—and I honestly had no idea until I’d started watching it.

Well, here goes. Happy birthday, S.!

Kardashians kim

Preamble

In order to pick an episode to recap, I decide to scroll through a list of the best episodes on ranker.com.

The top episode is “A Surprise Engagement.” Hmm—I feel like the title sort of contradicts itself, and I might not have the right mindset for such a paradox.

“Botox and Cigarettes,” on the other hand: hmm, seems to have definite potential for a lot of decadence and silliness. I put it in my mental “maybe” pile.

Number three is “Kendall Goes on Birth Control,” which sounds very dramatic, but I am not sure I can handle that. What if it’s as terrible as that episode of Dawson’s where Joey Potter tries to go on birth control? That seems like varsity-level recapping and I might not be ready for it.

“Kim’s Fairytale Wedding”: Well, I would probably be the first rabid feminist to recap it from the perspective of critiquing the wedding-industrial complex. Or maybe I wouldn’t! It’s probably incredibly easy to look at this episode from a perspective of utter snobbery: I would never spend twenty million dollars on just one party. I prefer to be snobbish about things that aren’t quite as obviously tacky.

“Kendall’s Sweet 16th”: same problem.

“The Kardashians Take NYC,” accompanied by a screenshot of Kim and one of the other ones (NO idea who; the only two I know are Kim and Kendall): also a possibility. But I love NYC. Maybe I would rather not see it “taken” by any Kardashians.

“The Wedding” is apparently not about Kim, so whatever. Boring.

“Shape Up or Ship Out”: er, probably requires too many ED trigger warnings.

So in the end I go with “Botox and Cigarettes,” because there’s just something about that title that makes it sound like it will be one utter, glorious, non-apologetic half-hour of soap-opera suds.

The episode

We open with the camera zooming up on a giant, gorgeous house with verdant grounds surrounding it. Inside it, Kris Jenner is raising her eyebrows while one of her daughters counts that there are 17 spatulas in the little spatula container on the counter. Hear that, guys? That’s how many spatulas you need to have to Keep Up with the Kardashians. Also, I’m impressed anyone on this show can even count that high.

A person in a GIANT striped polo like it’s 1994 or something joins them, and it takes me a second to recognize the future Caitlyn Jenner. Side note: Although I understand Caitlyn herself doesn’t have much of a preference on this front, I’m going to follow GLAAD guidelines and recap this using her current name and pronoun, and all I will say is that I can hardly believe the person who chose to don this terrible shirt turned out to have such excellent fashion taste later on. (In retrospect, maybe this was a symptom of the fact that she wasn’t comfortable in her skin until recently, so perhaps I shouldn’t snark.)

Side note 2: I only know about half of these characters’ names, so I’ll be using epithets until I learn them.

So anyway, we get an Interview Cam scene where Spatula Daughter explains that she came over to help her mom clean out her pantry, and it might be hard. Everything is memories! Like this giant jug of protein powder! “SO MANY NAPKINS!” Spatula Daughter shrieks from the pantry. Wow, these people do not lead the kind of glamorous life I had pictured. They clean their own pantries! They’re just like us!

Kris says, “Khloe, you’re freaking me out.” OK, so this one is named Khloe. Caitlyn stands around in the kitchen looking confused and useless while her relatives hang out in the pantry.

Kardashians cigs

Uh-oh. Khloe found cigarettes in the pantry! Kris says she just keeps them in case anyone wants to smoke when they visit.

Khloe gives her a cute, dimply smile: “So you hid them in the bread container?” Then she says, “And the 100s are kind of a rare cigarette to have for just, like, the community.” Hey, this girl’s kind of sassy and funny. When she’s not shrieking, she seems like a reasonably cool human being. I hope she’s not the one getting Botox later.

Kris gets her own Interview Cam to explain that the cigarettes are for when “Every night, I take a little break for myself.” Yeah. Something tells me this woman is not exactly starving for time to indulge herself, but we’ll see. Also, I am pretty sure that she took a black Magic Marker and used it for her eyeshadow this morning.

Kim and Kendall have come to join in the exciting pantry cleanup! Kim is signing records for charity.

“Kim, tell me about your photoshoot with Justin,” Kris says oh so casually, so that Kim can namedrop on camera.

Kim gushes that it was so fun and explains that she was in Hawaii on a photoshoot with Justin Bieber—who, at this time, is sixteen. He apparently called her a “cougar.” (Kim repeats this like it’s extremely clever.) They joke about Kim having a crush on him. “If only he was eighteen,” Kim says. They keep repeating “cougar” and laughing. Kim has a very nasal voice.

She explains to the Interview Cam that “I am turning thirty this year and I am freaking out. It’s pretty old.” That’s funny; she’s beautiful, but she wears an absurd amount of pancake makeup for someone this age. She complains that this “cougar” thing makes her feel old, even more than she already is. Oh, Kim. I feel you. I’m twenty-nine right now too, and I hate when people accuse me of being a cougar just because I was photographed romping around in Hawaii with a teenaged pop star!

Later at the Jenner house, there are at least two more pretty brunettes gathered, plus a cute, chubby baby on someone’s lap. Caitlyn is making a huge fuss about doing the dishes, sarcastically assuring everyone that they don’t need to help her. Is she complaining because she thinks that, as the wife/daughters of the family, they should wash the plates? I wouldn’t be surprised; something tells me that in this family, kitchen chores aren’t exactly equally distributed. I didn’t see Caitlyn cleaning the pantry, either!

Kris isn’t there; apparently she is outside “fixing the waterfall.” The girls didn’t even know that she had a waterfall. How big is this house? Oh wait—it turns out this isn’t about a waterfall but about Kris taking her daily secret cigarette break. The girls all think this is disgusting. Aww, they care about her!

Kris turns out to be the absolute worst at stealthiness; she just saunters back in reeking of cigarettes, and all the girls reprimand her in the same nasal tone of voice that Kim has.

“What are you guys, the Cigarette Police?” Kris says oh so cleverly. Caitlyn suggests she just go take a shower to make them all happy. The girls are determined to make her quit.

Kardashians hair

Kris PULLS A HAIR out of Kim’s head. This is not something regular moms do.

At Stanley’s Restaurant and Bar, a bunch of the ladies gather, plus Mason, at a table on the patio. It gets ugly pretty quick: Kris pulls a gray hair out of Kim’s head and says she’s in denial if she thinks it’s not gray. Kim accuses her of having a wattle and chants, “Gobble gobble.” Kris points out Kim’s (non-existent) wrinkles. Kim says it’s only because she hasn’t had Botox like Kris.

Kim says to the Interview Cam that she’s not thirty yet and “Lines on my face are just, like, unacceptable.” I’m not sure whether she means she won’t accept it, or whether the outside world should not be forced to look upon the face of an under-thirty woman unless that face is smooth. Either way, it’s clear that this is a huge problem for her. And also, in a different way, for feminism.

One of the other girls is staring at this with annoyance and says Kim is pretty and she doesn’t need surgery. Thank you, Sane Sister, whoever you are. (Side note 3: It turns out the sane sister is Khloe again, but I didn’t figure that out for awhile—they are all way too similar!)

Meanwhile, Kris pulls out another gray hair from Kim’s head and SINGS A SONG about it.

I really feel like Kris is reaping what her parenting has sown here, so it is fairly hard to feel bad for her, even when her child says “Gobble gobble” at her non-existent wattle. The craziest part is how calm they all are. They’re just, like, having a nice classy little iced tea on the patio and cooing vicious insults at each other. It’s very Blair Waldorf (minus, of course, Blair’s vast vocabulary).

A car zips down the highway, and one of Kim’s sisters (the Sane Kardashian) asks for a lunch date. “Yeah, we can do that right after,” Kim says. Kim explains to the Interview Cam that today she has a Botox Consultation. “I don’t know why you are even doing this,” Sane Sister says.

Kim’s in the brightly-lit, expensive-looking doctor’s office. I wonder if this is the same guy Meg Ryan goes to. (Too soon?) The doctor, who gets to be chubby and bald because he’s a man and doesn’t exist merely to please other people’s aesthetic taste, jokes that Kim looks nineteen but then explains to her with great seriousness all about how her skin is wrinkling.

Then Kim says Sane Sister needs Botox too and that SHE’S in denial! Wow, Kim. Way to turn against the one person in your life who has any grip on reality at all.

Sane Sister, who appears to be about twenty-three, just calmly insists she doesn’t need Botox. I’m kind of impressed, you guys. If this is her day-to-day life—her mother and sisters competing to see who can say the meanest shit to each other about each other’s appearances—the fact that she’s managed to stay away from the temptation to snark on Kim’s appearance or on her own is pretty damn impressive.

The doctor laughs, I guess because the idea that any woman might not need plastic surgery is a new concept for him. Then he explains that side effects are totally rare and not serious, and Kim’s like, great! Let’s do it! Sane Sister rolls her eyes.

Kardashians khloe

My thoughts exactly, Sane Sister.

That evening, a bunch of the girls are hanging out on the couch while Kris drinks wine in the kitchen. (Hey Kris, I thought the cigarettes were your sorely needed “Me time”—kind of looks like you’ve got a few other sources of Me Time going on here.) They tease her: wine first, then… “CIG!” Haha. Aw, they’re kind of a cute family when they’re not ripping each other to shreds for perceived violations of society’s dehumanizing notions about female beauty!

They say she has a problem, but she insists that she doesn’t need cigarettes after the wine. “You guys don’t think I could stop smoking for a week?”

“No,” they chorus. Kris insists that she’ll show them. …Starting tomorrow. Hee. Meanwhile, the girls decide to “like, force her to stop.” So they go up to the second-floor balcony and POUR WATER ON KRIS’S HEAD. (I guess having a giant house with fancy balconies is great for many reasons, such as saving your mom from her cigarette addiction, or standing outside in the morning in your bathrobe gloating that you own everything within seeing distance, which is what I imagine Kris does every morning.)

Wow, this is certainly a more lively household than I expected after the pantry-cleaning cold open.

Kardashians wet

“The cigarette is out, Kylie.”

Kris, with her hair plastered to his head, freaks out at them, screaming at the top of her lungs that they’d better run. They chase her into the kitchen and one of them tosses more water on her. “The cigarette is out, Kylie,” Kris says, giving her a dirty look. Heh.

One of them sasses that Kris’s makeup looks great. It’s the narrow-faced, mean-looking one who sort of looks like the kind of girl who would bully you in seventh grade.

The next morning, the mean one comes in and tells Caitlyn all about how they “literally dumped buckets of water all over her.” Caitlyn says that now Kris is smoking again, which she usually doesn’t do in the morning. Mean Sister gets a little lightbulb over her head. What if Kris thought she was having a bad influence on her kids?

Kendall giggles but says she won’t smoke. “They’re not even real cigarettes,” the other sister insists, “they’re honey rose, they’re like made out of honey and marshmallow.” (Is… that a thing? I can’t tell when they’re being ironic! Their high-pitched sultry voices are so confusing!) Caitlyn finally gives in and wishes them luck.

We’re now at Kim’s Botox appointment, and the doctor is injecting stuff into her extremely smooth eyelids. Sane Sister hides her face and yells that it’s gross. “Shut up, Khloe. It’s rude,” says Kim. Well, it’s certainly not as polite as telling your sister she needs Botox and is in denial, but not everyone can live up to Kim’s standards!

“Does it hurt?” Khloe says (I guess I’ve learned her name now and can cease calling her Sane Sister). Kim tells her to shut up, and gives a big smile on the doctor’s command. Khloe is making hilarious faces and is by far my favorite character in this episode.

In an interview, Kim says she’s not sure why she brought Khloe because she’s making all this noise and yelling about the needles and she just wants her to be supportive. I think this was Kim’s subconscious, trying to save her from herself by bringing along the one voice of reason in this family!

The other two sisters pull up at Cigar Road and Mean Sister goes out, telling Kendall to stay in the car (aww, sisterly protection). The salesman is a little doubtful about selling her herbal cigarettes for her fourteen-year-old sister, so I guess even Cigar Road salesmen have their moral lines! But Mean Sister makes off with a packet of Honey Rose cigarettes, and next thing you know, Kendall’s got a lit one in the backyard and is holding it as far away from herself as possible, while holding her nose. Caitlyn is also making a big fuss about how terrible it smells.

Kardashians kendall

I’m not sure even Kris Jenner is going to fall for this plot.

A little highway time lapse brings us to yet another patio restaurant, with Kim and Khloe. “Do you have a cup of ice?” Kim asks in a dramatic voice, and then complains that her eyes itch. Khloe reminds her to do exercises like the doctor said, so Kim makes a series of funny faces despite the risk of paparazzi catching her in a non-perfect pose.

To the Interview Cam she says her eyes feel like they’re on fire, and then Khloe, in her own interview, goes, “I hate to say it, but I told you so!”

Well, she did.

Kim insists that what she’s feeling is not normal and she needs to leave. I think this is also her subconscious (who knew a girl who gets Botox at twenty-nine had this many layers?) making her feel guilty and causing her to be paranoid about the side effects of the gross substance that she just injected into her body.

Kris arrives home and finds Kendall in the backyard. “Nothing,” Kendall says not very convincingly as she pretends to hide the cigarette. Kris threatens to talk to her dad and sends Kendall to her room. “Mmkay,” Kendall says; she’s hilariously not bothering to act upset at all, but Kris doesn’t notice.

Kris finds Caitlyn on the couch and complains that Kendall was smoking in the bushes. “Oh, my God,” says Caitlyn in a fake surprised voice. “Kind of like what you do.” Kris protests that she’s an adult, but no dice. “You’re a hypocrite,” Caitlyn yells a couple times. “Parents lead by example…. Kids watch their parents, they watch what they’re doing.”

Kris gives him a long look and then confesses to the Interview Cam, “It devastates me to think that my actions have influenced Kendall that much that she would be curious to find out exactly what it is that I might be feeling when I smoke a cigarette.”

Hmm. Now if only someone could manage to shed some light on why it’s also wrong to body-shame your kids, Kris might basically become the perfect mother.

Kim is in the bath when Khloe comes in. “Is that your mascara on your face?” Khloe asks. She taps the side of her eyes and holds up a mirror. “It looks like someone like socked you in your face.” Kim, to the Interview Cam, freaks out that she doesn’t know how she’s going to “cover this up.” That’s what she’s worried about? Not that like, her eyes might fall out?

Kendall brags on the phone that she’s grounded. “She was like, pissed!” she brags. She’s interrupted by Kris, who comes in to apologize for losing her temper and to explain that she’s mad at herself for doing that to her own body so that she can’t tell Kendall not to do it.

“Mm-hmm,” Kendall says.

“You wouldn’t be trying to teach me a lesson, would you?” Kris says.

“Not at all?” Kendall tries.

Kris looks amused, and promises the Interview Cam that she has been scared straight. “I love you, and I want you to be around for a really long time, OK?” she says and gives Kendall a giant hug. It’s fairly cute and genuine (although I suspect this whole story of being scripted, not least because no one can aim a bucket of water THAT well from a second-floor balcony).

At Kim’s house, a doctor arrives (we know he’s a doctor because he has a stethoscope around his neck). “Hello. I’m dying,” Kim greets him cheerfully. Hah, she’s pretty funny when she wants to be.

She admits to the Interview Cam that she is embarrassed to admit to the doctor why she has the bruises. Does that tell you anything about whether you should be doing this at all, Kim?

To the doctor, she moans that she’s allergic to Botox so she’ll never be able to get it again. Priorities, Kim! The doctor seems kind of amused as he explains that actually, it’s not that she’s allergic, so much as that having a foreign substance injected under your skin is inevitably going to cause bruising.

Kardashians no makeup

Right? She’s SO PRETTY.

Side note: I hate to participate in objectifying Kim any more than her mother, America, and Kanye West already have, but she looks damn beautiful with no makeup on, even with the weird bruises. Fuck Botox, that is a crazy genetic gift right there.

The doctor continues with a line that, if this were a romantic comedy, would lead to their falling in love. He says that you never know what reaction you’ll have to an injection, so uh, that’s why you shouldn’t do it unless you need it. And she doesn’t need it. He gives her a sweet little smile. She smiles and agrees that she doesn’t need to. Everyone’s learned a lesson! Thank you, Telegenic Doctor Man!

The sun sets and rises again. Three days later, they’re back in the kitchen of the Jenner house, and the girls are kidding around with a conversation I really can’t follow, but seems generally non-vicious.

Kris comes in and shows off her Nicotine gum. “It’s kind of like a cigarette and a glass of wine rolled up into one little package.” Hah. I’m glad she isn’t trying too hard to convince her kids that substance abuse isn’t pleasurable.

Then Kim shows up and everyone teases her about her bruises, which are invisible under a six-inch layer of makeup. “It’s not that bad,” Kim says. “It looks like a cartoon version of you,” one of the sisters says. But they agree it’s not as bad as Khloe said.

Kardashians ending

Both of them have learned a lesson.

“I’ll never do this again, ever,” Kim says. She explains to Interview Cam, “When I looked in the mirror and saw how bruised and swollen my face was? I cannot believe that I put myself through this. I will never do this again. Well at least until I’m like, forty.” Heh. Well, she’s obviously learned a lot!

Caitlyn insists that there’s no difference, Kim’s always beautiful. “Well you’re old and you can’t see,” Kim says. Caitlyn makes this rueful face that I interpret as, “Well, when you marry a woman like Kris, you can’t expect to end up with daughters who won’t viciously insult you at the drop of a hat.”

Aaaand that’s the end!

My thoughts

All in all, I’m surprised at what this show was really like. I expected it would be more like Jersey Shore, of which I’ve also only ever seen one episode: loud, unpleasant and trashy. But actually, the girls—with the exception of Kris, who’s a fucking piece of work—are very pleasant to watch. They didn’t shriek much (after the first scene) and they can put together moderately articulate sentences most of the time; most importantly, they seem to actually like each other. Their body language is very casual and touchy-feely around each other, which is really cute and sweet. They even care about saving their mother from cigarettes!

I feel like what this show really does that’s interesting and unusual, is to portray what it’s like to grow up in a family that unabashedly prizes convention over all else: you end up wanting Botox at twenty-nine because your mother convinced you that a woman’s worst nightmare is to look old or in any way imperfect, and no one ever taught you to question these things or to form your own opinions. To me it’s like watching a show about a foreign culture: totally different norms and beliefs that I never would have believed real people could hold. No wonder if Kim’s a little unhinged! I think I would be, too.

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