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From Comedy To Drama: The Sad Transformation Of ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’


What started as a Brady Bunch-esque half-hour show has turned into something far darker. Perhaps this just reflects the transformation of celebrity.


The trailer for Season 16 of “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” is out, and it perfectly illustrates the show’s gradual transformation from a comedy to a drama. In the world of reality television, that’s a tragedy.

Juxtaposing the 96-second clip with its counterpart from season one is instructive. Hard as it may be to return to the distant universe of 2007, KUWTK was advertised as a modern “Brady Bunch” and the billing was fairly accurate. Half-hour episodes followed the close-knit family through tight, sitcom-style plot lines. Theirs was a happy struggle, a mood reflected even down to the show’s warm aesthetic. By comparison, the first season’s promotional trailer is almost laughably lighthearted.

Recent seasons have seen the series take a darker turn, propelled entirely by real-life circumstances. (And perhaps exaggerated in a bid to boost dwindling ratings.) As the perils of fame caught up with the Kardashians, it dimmed their show in realtime. As it exists today, KUWTK is nearly unrecognizable from its earliest incarnation, which makes sense for a reality show, but speaks volumes about the corrosive effects of celebrity.

The longer 40-minute format provides room for the family to live out painful plot points—actual circumstances, in their case—from violent robberies to sex transformations to adultery to divorce to mental illness. Their houses are antiseptic mansions, a sad backdrop for the stream of personal tragedies that unfolds every season now. Their clothes are high fashion, as opposed to whatever all this was, but while they mostly look better, it’s hard to imagine they feel anything but worse.

Of course, through all the pain, the Kardashians (and Jenners) produced plenty of beautiful children, and embarked on many a successful business venture. But the heartbreaks outweighs the happiness these days, and the Season 16 trailer is finally a brazen reflection of that.

Set to the haunting soundtrack of Kanye West’s “Runaway,” the clip teases a stark imbalance of darkness and light, barely managing ten seconds of positivity in more than a minute and a half. “We just can’t seem to catch a break,” Kris laments.

Having premiered just four years after the Kardashian patriarch’s sudden passing from cancer, and in the wake of Kim’s sex tape scandal, the show almost felt like a narrative of healing in its early days. That might be where it needs to go again.

When all is said and done, “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” will almost certainly stand as an unthinkably large-scale documentary on the tragedy of celebrity. Speaking through tears in the new trailer, Khloé says, “I’m not just a TV show. Like, this is my life.” But it’s really both, and that’s been the problem all along.