This Thanksgiving, the Kardashian clan has a lot to be thankful for. Rob came in a respectable second in ABC’s Dancing with the Stars finale (his sister Kim only lasted three weeks). Khloe’s husband Lamar Odom returned to work thanks to a breakthrough in negotiations between the NBA and the players’ union. Kourtney revealed the shocking news that she and boyfriend Scott Disick are pregnant with their second child. And this Sunday, the next installment of the Kardashian saga, Kourtney & Kim Take New York, premiered on E! to an impressive 3.2 million viewers.
The season features Kourtney, Scott, baby Mason, and newlyweds Kim and Kris Humpries moving to New York. Amid the oil enemas, the naked yoga teachers, and Scott’s freshly shaved underarms, conflict brews as Kris struggles to get used to living with the Kardashian family and Scott yearns for a more intimate relationship with Kourtney. In the end, Scott makes amends with Kourtney, who promises better behavior. Kris, on the other hand, announces that the situation is affecting his work, and that he is moving to Minnesota to train for the NBA season. But unlike other shows in which viewers can’t wait to see how conflict builds towards an unexpected and cathartic climax, the finale of Kourtney & Kim Take New York is already set in stone—Kris and Kim separate, and, citing irreconcilable differences, Kim files for divorce after just 72 days of marriage.
In the real world, we all know about Kim’s tragic, though perhaps premeditated, divorce, but the onscreen Kim and Kris are completely unaware. Kourtney & Kim Take New York offers viewers the chance to watch a marriage collapse in the most organic setting reality TV can offer. In the beginning, all seems well. “You’re my wife now. It’s gonna take a lot to get rid of me,” Kris says.
Unfortunately, his words don’t seem to ring true. In just the first episode, we’ve already seen tempers flare—Kris calls Kim a bitch for asking him to pick up his clothes. We’ve witnessed a stubborn inability to compromise, as the two bicker over how long to take pictures for on the red carpet. And we’ve watched, horrified, as petty arguments turn violent, with Kim punching Kris after he accidentally messes up her pedicure. We know what happens, so why do we watch?
It boils down to asymmetry of information, brought on by what I’ve deemed the “reality lag,” the expanse of time between real events and their portrayal on reality television. Though present in all reality shows, this lag is particularly prominent in celeb-reality, where tabloids can instantly cover celebrity gossip before it goes through production and editing and eventually makes it to your screen. The resulting shows seem more like documentaries than traditional reality programming. Reality standouts like The Hills and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills were notable exploiters of the lag, milking viewers out of delayed tabloid tales like Heidi Montag’s plastic surgery debacle and, more tragically, Russell Armstrong’s suicide.
The problem with (or, for some, the benefit of) the reality lag is that it incentivizes scandal to boost viewers. While Kim’s marriage may not have been a complete sham, the timing of the divorce certainly was. Sandwiched perfectly between the end of the show’s production and its premiere, Kim’s sudden divorce provided just the right amount of buzz to encourage new viewers (including yours truly) to tune in to the first episode. But at the same time, it gives Kim and her part-producer, part-psycho-mom Kris Jenner enough time to frame the divorce in a way that furthers their brand.
Surprisingly, the most damning problem with Kourtney & Kim Take New York is not its contrived and predetermined plot, but its stunning lack of originality. Eventually viewers will realize that, barring Khloe, the Kardashian family is just plain boring. In summing up the drama of the episode, Kim took the words right out of my mouth: “Enough is enough already! It’s like the same thing over and over.”
File your divorce papers with Keaton at firstname.lastname@example.org