The tenth episode of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians’s” 15th season aired on Sunday, exactly 11 years after the show’s premiere. Kourtney and Kim had yet to learn what dodgeball was.
That’s not a joke either. As they debated what sport to center an upcoming fundraiser around, Khloé had to explain the game to her sisters, one of whom thought it was a movie with Drew Barrymore. The other thought it starred Will Ferrell.
Much was made last fall of the show’s tenth anniversary, and rightfully so. But this eleventh year has been eventful for the leading lady in particular, whose political advocacy reshaped her image more effectively than a waist trainer. For all that it’s lost, (a father figure, DASH, many viewers) “Keeping Up” has kept something crucial.
Flipping back between the older and newer episodes is a jarring study in contrasts. Almost every second of the Oct. 14, 2007 premiere is fodder for discussion— there’s Bruce Jenner cheekily lamenting the “life of a male” (“Thank God you had a vasectomy a couple of years ago,” Khloé jokes); there’s Kim preparing to talk about the sex tape that launched her to super stardom on “Tyra”; there’s Kris’s prescient observations about Scott’s immaturity.
A ten-year-old Kylie Jenner dances on her parents’ stripper pole. The family is introduced as “the modern day ‘Brady Bunch,’ with a kick.” (If that parallel is apt, I’d hate to find out what happened to the fictional family.) Their house was comparatively modest.
As she tried to have a heart-to-heart with Kourtney about the 24-year-old Scott, Kris picked absently at an American flag pillow, unaware years later many people could probably see that as something of a metaphor for her mega-famous family’s impact on the country.
Expansion is the theme of “Keeping Up’s” later seasons. In 2012, episodes were elongated from 30 minutes to an hour. The family has grown by nine babies. The show got sleeker and brighter. Aesthetically, the women occupied massive spaces, sprawling mansions with high ceilings, open floor plans, and bright white walls.
By contrast, the first scene of the first episode opened with the whole family nestled into their average-sized living room, bathed in warm lighting. Close quarters were strategically emphasized. The scene ended with a camera zooming in on Kim’s butt, underscoring a point Kris was making about her daughter’s “junk in the trunk.” Indeed, self-deprecation may be what’s kept the Kardashians with us for 15 seasons.
One of the two major intersecting plot lines in Sunday’s episode involved Khloé and Scott pranking Kris into purchasing a pair of paintings Khloé created in less than ten minutes in a garage for a hefty sum, believing she has acquired the high-brow stylings of someone named Art Vandelay (that’s a “Seinfeld” reference). “Do you remember when you shamed Khloé about now knowing art?” Scott asks, before revealing the origins of their handiwork. Kris found the whole ordeal hilarious.
In another part of the episode, Kourtney and Khloé joked about how the results of their DNA tests proved Khloé’s paternity, despite gossip rag rumors she doesn’t share the same father. Kris mocked Kim’s fashion: “She doesn’t wear handbags, she doesn’t wear jewelry— she barely wears clothes.”
If there’s one thread tying together both Oct. 14ths, separated by eleven long years, it’s the theme of self-deprecation.
New “Keeping Up” episodes can be sad, dwelling on the tragic aftershocks of superstardom, as people who chased the dream of fame cope with finding it. But even draped in tens of thousands of dollars worth of designer fabric, and the best makeup Hollywood has to offer, the Kardashians are in on the joke. They always have been.
Maybe that’s liberating for Kim. When you’re used to being a laughingstock of the elites, it’s easier to collaborate with someone like Donald Trump. But maybe it also says something about what we want from our celebrities. Maybe what’s kept this group of vain, bronzed, materialistic Valley Girls on our screens for more than a decade is their concession that it’s all pretty funny to them too.