It’s impossible to watch your first episode of Kourtney and Kim Take New York in late 2011 without any expectations. At this point, the family has been prominent in the media since 2007, and it seems like their toxic effect on American pop culture has been documented for even longer than that. So I went into this show knowing more or less exactly what I was going to get and how I was going to respond. I would witness a bunch of whiny, entitled, shallow females overreact and be self-centered for 22 minutes, and then I would mercilessly mock them with prose vicious enough to make them forget that they could buy and sell me for approximately 12—maybe even 13—seconds. And then they would shake it off and go continue their million dollar contract negotiations for Kourtney, Khloé, and Kim Konquer Kolorado.
On a certain level, the episode—“A Dash of Respect,” chosen strictly because its title reminded me of an Aretha Franklin song—met these expectations. Kim openly frets about Kourtney not paying enough attention to her before the show even reaches its opening credits. At one point, Khloé utters the phrase, “I’m a rebel in a wolf’s head” with what appears to be complete earnestness. And the inability of each sister to form facial expressions has not been exaggerated.
The Kardashians’ behavior, however, is not particularly over the top. As a result, the problem with this episode of the show is not that it’s rage inducing. The problem is that it’s boring.
“A Dash of Respect” is constructed almost exactly as if it were a scripted episode of a television series entitled Clichéd Storylines. The A story consists of Khloé coming to New York to help Kim and Kourtney open their new Dash clothing store. However, when Khloé arrives, she hangs out exclusively with Kourtney. This upsets Kim, so she tells them about it, and they make up, ending the episode as three happy sisters. The problem is created and resolved in a convenient 22 minutes, all of which were painfully reminiscent of a middle school cafeteria.
The B story is centered on a man named Scott. Scott is never introduced in this episode, so I spent much of the time wondering who he was. He does share the sisters’ inability to form facial expressions and at one point helpfully tells the camera, “I’m very busy, usually, working on corporate stuff,” so I assume he is somehow related to the Kardashians and only makes occasional appearances on the show, as he is usually too busy with corporate stuff.
Scott is very excited because he’s going to be on the cover of Men’s Fitness. This leads him to hire an assistant named Dale to help him manage his busy life of reality television, magazine modeling, and corporate stuff. He is rude to Dale at the Men’s Fitness photo shoot, however, so Dale quits. Scott apologizes to him at the end of the episode and tries to get him to come back, but Dale stands his ground, calling Scott an “egotistical, pompous asshole” in the process. Scott then congratulates himself for giving Dale a backbone, proving that this description of him was well founded. Another problem created and resolved in 22 minutes.
The strongest impression one gets of the characters on Kourtney and Kim Take New York, then, is not that they are insufferable brats. It’s that their lives have been perfectly constructed for a television series. While the viewing populace has to deal with problems that tend to exist both when they go to sleep and after they wake up, the Kardashians’ problems hang around long enough to cause some excitement but leave before they can do any actual damage. And since these problems occur under the guise of “reality” television, maybe that means someday us viewers can live in a world of 22-minute episodic problems as well. It seems a little implausible; then again, so did four hit shows featuring the Kardashians.
This episode does inadvertently reveal why this family has such a reputation for melodrama, however. After all, if the problems they deal with can be resolved in one episode, it effectively disqualifies them from being serious and, subsequently, interesting. Since people have a habit of not watching boring television shows, the best way to combine the audience’s desire for drama with its desire for escapism is to have the characters treat these trivial problems seriously.
That didn’t happen in “A Dash of Respect.” Kim reacted to Khloé and Kourtney leaving her out of their plans—a typical, almost mundane familial problem—like it was a typical, almost mundane familial problem. As a result, it was a boring episode. A huge, sensational brawl in the middle of Dash might not have reflected well on America, but it would have made for some captivating television.
I think we all know which of those two things is more important.