One episode was provided for reviewing purposes prior to broadcast.
“I loved him with all my heart,” Caitlyn Jenner’s mom, Esther, remarks midway through the premiere of E!’s new reality series I Am Cait. “And I certainly love her with all my heart.” It’s one of a handful of surprisingly moving moments in a premiere that has a certain hands-off air surrounding it. Debuting this Sunday, June 26, I Am Cait is far less exuberantly produced than the bombastic Keeping Up With The Kardashians or the modesty-challenged #RichKids of Beverly Hills. This time, the network opts for a more languid, documentary feel for its new show and, given the tricky tightrope they must walk in presenting Caitlyn to the world, it’s pretty easy to see why.
Because, in case you didn’t know, Caitlyn used to be Bruce, an athlete and winner of the gold medal in the men’s decathlon at the 1976 Olympic games in Montreal. After a few rumors of his transition began swirling around his heavily-televised life, Bruce sat down with Diane Sawyer last spring and addressed every sore spot head-on in a now-famous interview. One Vanity Fair cover later, not to mention a summer mostly influenced with refreshingly positive talk about both the transgender community and equal rights as a whole, and Caitlyn’s life comes full circle: she’s back on a reality TV show. One caveat — this one’s worth watching.
The show opens with a shot of Caitlyn unable to sleep at 4 o’clock in the morning, disheveled and pointing out her dishevelment to her seemingly own personal smartphone camera. As with any reality show, it’s hard to gleam what aspects of I Am Cait are genuine and which have the invisible threads of a producer’s hands puppeteering the whole thing. Luckily, even if these brief “found footage” interludes have a crack cameraman behind the scenes and a special beautician to give Caitlyn that rolled-out-of-bed look, they’re effective in showcasing her willingness to be, as she says repeatedly, “authentic.”
Elsewhere, the premiere provides glimpses behind the scenes with Caitlyn and her inner-circle’s reaction to the big Vanity Fair cover reveal earlier in the summer, and the various family phone calls she makes as the news breaks. Maybe the show’s best nuance is in its presentation of stomach-churning dread at what essentially boils down to coming out, magnified times 100 for Caitlyn’s not only public reveal in the interview and magazine cover, but in needing to constantly re-introduce herself to family and friends. Otherwise, there’s no real “drama” or conflict in the premiere, with only a handful of confused glances and statements from Esther that last all of five seconds. It all results in an undeniably enjoyable, if emotionally circumspect hour of television.