You’ve Been Watching ‘The Kardashians’ Wrong This Whole Time


There’s something strange happening to the Kardashians. When I check in on America’s First Family every few months—often timed to the release of the latest season of their eponymous Hulu reality show The Kardashians, whose fifth season premieres May 23—I am left generally ambivalent. Aside from one or two scenes per 45-minute episode, there isn’t much spontaneous personality to draw from their structure-oriented, workaholic lives, and certainly not enough for an entire multi-season reality show.

While I enjoyed a Season 3 scene where Kylie Jenner almost plowed over someone while trying to drive stick, and the Season 4 scene where Khloé Kardashian reveals her secret fear of whales, those microdoses of mirth quickly wane. What’s left is a season that spends most of its time rehashing old interfamily drama or trailing Kris, Kim, Khloé, Kourtney, Kendall, and Kylie as they jet around the world, wanting for nothing. Simply put: It’s not very interesting at all.

Or, at least, not to the untrained eye.

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If you look a little harder, there is entertainment to be found in The Kardashians. In Season 5, this is partly thanks to new on-the-fly confessionals filmed in real-time. This method of shooting testimonials has become largely outmoded now that reality television is more polished and produced, but some brilliant minds knew that the Kardashian family had the wits to revive it. Seeing the most image-conscious celebrities in the world be pulled aside by a cameraperson, babbling into the lens like they’re on an early season of Real Housewives of Orange County, is the most inspired production move this show has made to date.

But the fun also comes from a new, sinister aura that has enveloped the entire show. Confused prayers are recited on-camera, multiple times, conjuring some untold force. Kris appears noticeably inebriated in half of the scenes that she’s in. Dark stories about illegal, underage driving and drunken parenting come to light. And don’t even get me started on the sexy FaceTime calls with family members! The Kardashians Season 5 feels like the world’s most famous family has found themselves in a particularly pervy Paul Schrader film, and even if the high will likely dissipate, at least it’s amusing while it lasts.

Don’t get me wrong—and don’t send me a fifth round of nasty, “You’re dumb, we don’t care about the Kartrashians!” emails (tired joke, by the way)—I am acutely aware that most people don’t have the patience to find the kooky needle in the humdrum haystack. Believe me, I empathize. There’s a sequence in the Season 5 premiere, where Kourtney sits around with her friends on a bed, spouting off vague details about an emergency fetal surgery she had in September to save the life of her then-unborn child. “We caught it just in time, it was miraculous, it was not age-related,” Kourt drones on in her signature monotone cadence. The lack of detail is maddening and left me ready to shout, “What the hell was it?!” at my television. But, surprisingly, that was the only exasperating part of Season 5’s first two episodes.

What follows is an onslaught of unexpected joy and true cult-like peculiarity. When Kourtney receives a call from her husband, Travis Barker, mid-filming, the spit-swapping lovebirds begin to commune with higher forces. Travis is about to play a show with his band, Blink-182, and asks Kourtney to recite the prayer she says for him before every tour date. The prayer is as follows (add the vocal fry in your mind):

Dear Lord Jesus, I pray that you keep a wildfire around Travis

May he have the best show, and protect him from the Fire

And the Riser

And keep his head clear, and his fingers safe

And…that he has the best show…in Jesus name, amen.

Could “the fire” and “the riser” be elements of the Blink-182 show? Maybe (well, almost definitely). But they could also be names for otherworldly Gods that only the uber-wealthy can perceive. This prayer is repeated later, and I can only hope it’s a staple of every episode of The Kardashians from here on out. I’m thinking of getting it embroidered on a tote bag. God doesn’t mind blasphemy, as long as it’s done tastefully.

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Later, Khloé gathers in a kitchen with Kris and Scott Disick, when the subject of Scott and Kourtney’s teenage son Mason getting a car comes up. “Khloé, you used to drive [at 14],” Kris says. “But you lied to me and said that I had a government license and that I was allowed to take the kids to school!” Khloé shouts in response. We quickly learn that Kris was encouraging Khloé to drive herself and her siblings to school every morning on something she called a “government-issued license,” a completely fake ID card. Whether this was Kris overstating the legality of a learner’s permit or the government-issued license didn’t exist at all is unclear. What is clear is that it’s just another story in the tome of Kris and Khloé’s Outrageous Tales.

Khloé then tells a story about when she was 15 and drove a wasted Kris home after a family outing. “I’m driving on the freeway, I’m 15, I’m not qualified,” Khloé says. “And then she’s just head hanging out [the window], no warning, BLEGH.” Kris vomited out the window while a teenage Khloé was going 80 miles-per-hour down the freeway, at which time barf physics sent the acidic puke onto the speeding road, under the car’s wheels, and into Khloé’s face. “It shoots back into me, and I start crying and go, ‘Please mom, MOM!” Perhaps this level of comfort between mother and daughter explains why Khloé suggestively sucks on a straw over FaceTime when Kris calls her later in the season. No disorderly activity is off-limits.

To top it all off all of these oddities, the season premiere ends with a creepy, Disneyland-themed baby shower for Kourtney and Travis. Paying millions of dollars to turn your backyard into a theme park, complete with Disneyland churros and Mickey Mouse ear-shaped pretzels, could be cute, if these antics were for a kid’s birthday party. But for two fortysomething parents who reserve their right to tongue kiss wherever they are, it’s a bit freaky. Things are made even stranger when Kourt and Travis arrive, masked, telling Kris that they both tested positive for COVID. Their plan to stop by the party for just a moment before the guests arrive is thwarted when they’re beckoned to a faraway table, where the partygoers can gawk and wave to them. Nothing like chomping on a churro while you try to stay six feet apart from someone with a mild case of COVID and a severe case of arrested development. If only the Challengers boys made the guest list.

But things are alright, as they always are when money ensures stability. The baby shower is successful, and Kris deserves a mimosa or five to celebrate. Maybe that’s how the producers can convince these women to give on-the-fly confessionals: by plying them with booze. It doesn’t hurt, given that Kris’ rambling speech was one of the times I’ve laughed the hardest at this show since it began.

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“I think it all turned out after all, at the happiest place on earth,” Kris says, possibly even believing that her backyard is Disneyland. “So, you know, there’s always a happy ending. There might be a lot of drama, as usual. But at the end of the day, there’s always a happy ending. And it’s always about family.”

Funnily enough, that’s the most succinct, sober-averse way of talking about this season of The Kardashians. Before pressing play, I was ready to throw my hands up, to give up on this show for good. But, much to my surprise, they got me again. In the words of Kris Jenner: It all turned out after all—whatever the hell that means.

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