'I Am Cait' Premieres As Reality Series With A Cause

Jul 27, 2015
Originally published on July 27, 2015 7:24 pm
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"I Am Cait" debuted last night on the cable channel E!, the reality TV series featuring Caitlyn Jenner, once known as Bruce Jenner, now the world's best-known transgender person. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the show educates without exploiting it subjects. Though, he says, there are questions about the way events are manipulated.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: When the woman once known as Bruce Jenner first addresses the camera in "I Am Cait," her concerns about appearing in a reality TV show about her transition are simple.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I AM CAIT")

CAITLYN JENNER: What a responsibility I have towards this community. Am I going to do everything right? Am I going to say the right things? Do I project the right image? I just hope I get it right.

DEGGANS: That's recurring theme in the show, which documents Caitlyn Jenner's public transition to life as a woman.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I AM CAIT")

C. JENNER: Vanity Fair is out.

DEGGANS: As the episode opens, Caitlyn is celebrating her appearance in June on the cover of Vanity Fair. It was the first time many people had seen her as a woman, and the cover made international headlines. This is a show with a cause. In the first episode, we see Caitlyn meet with the parent of a transgender child who committed suicide. And she often refers to the struggles of transgender people not lucky enough to have an assistant, a stylist and the support of celebrities worldwide. But the most affecting part of "I Am Cait" comes when Caitlyn meets her 89-year-old mother, Esther, for the first time as a woman.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I AM CAIT")

ESTHER JENNER: I love Bruce. It'll never change. It's going to take some getting used to, but I want it - I want to do what he wants.

DEGGANS: That's an understandable reaction for a parent - supportive but struggling to understand. Another issue arises when Caitlyn tells one of her sisters most of her children haven't visited.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I AM CAIT")

C. JENNER: And they keep saying to me openly that everybody's great. It's great. We want you to live your life and then they never show up. So you know something else is going on in their head.

DEGGANS: But a skeptic has to wonder; have the children delayed their visits so their first meetings with Caitlyn can be captured on camera? This is the weakness of reality TV. It rarely acknowledges how the presence of cameras can distort a moment or how scenes can be deliberately arranged for television. The show itself is a prominent moment in a well-planned campaign to introduce the world to Caitlyn Jenner. The transition allows Caitlyn to continue the career as a public person that she began as Bruce Jenner. The first episode of "I Am Cait" parallels Caitlyn's transition story to the same issues faced by many other transgender people. But the reality TV form means viewers may question if some scenes are as genuine as they seem. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.