The big thrust of the first episode lies on the back of Esther Jenner — Caitlyn’s mom — and her reaction to seeing Caitlyn for the first time since the transition. Again, under the guise of a reality series, it’s hard to get past the sometimes awkward staging, but Esther and Caitlyn’s delve into the entire issue, along with sisters Lisa and Pam, is appropriately raw and poignant. Caitlyn’s occasional self-ascribed leader status can lean heavily on the martyr side, generating some clunky scenes and heavy-handed speeches, but her end-goal seems so genuine — especially a meet-up with a suicidal transgender teen’s mother in the premiere’s final moments — that only the most skeptical and bullheaded of viewers will be able to resist her charm.
Of course, the E! of it all rears its neon-colored hair extensions every once in a while, screeching to a halt incisive conversations about appropriate pronoun usage and the awkwardness of FaceTime after a transition for jokes about sports bras and testicle humor during a tennis match. There’s undeniable interest in witnessing the day-to-day life of a person post-transition — even one this affluent — but the creators have to be careful with leaving behind the documentary feel and tiptoeing into more classic reality television tropes, or else they’ll risk turning Caitlyn into yet another Real Housewife no one feels like keeping up with anymore. Given the show’s laudatory success of avoiding a judgmental, oh-look-how-odd, animal-in-a-zoo view of Caitlyn, that would be the ultimate disappointment.
But maybe that’s E!’s ultimate meta stance on Caitlyn Jenner as a whole: giving her a show that feels like the most honest thing the channel’s produced since The Soup but in the end treating her like any other reality star present in its line-up. It’s still very early on in both I Am Cait‘s run, and in Caitlyn Jenner’s new life, however, so there’s always hope for the show to continue to eschew as much reality show drivel as possible for an honest portrayal of who is, in the end, a genuinely intriguing person to watch on screen. As with any LGBT-focused series, the first question on most people’s minds regarding Jenner’s new show is if it can change minds, especially given the star’s perfectly poised position on the T part of the LGBT soapbox at the moment. The rare and giddily exciting thing about I Am Cait is that even with its somewhat glaring issues, in the end, I think it actually can.
Caitlyn Jenner's long sought-after "authenticity" may be the antithesis of E!'s entire back-catalog, but the network scores big with I Am Cait, showcasing a genuinely absorbing personality with only occasional dips into navel-gazing.