Bruce Jenner's gender transition to Caitlyn is by now old news. The Diane Sawyer interview, the Vanity Fair cover, the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs and numerous paparazzi shots have all introduced Caitlyn to the world. The reveal is over, but the process continues in the form of Jenner's new show "I Am Cait," a reality series that looks at the impact of gender transitioning on both Caitlyn and her family. In comparison to most reality TV shows that force drama from ordinary situations, "I Am Cait" offers something unique: The chance to explore authentic emotions as Caitlyn and those closest to her learn how to move forward.
The show wants to personalize what has become a very public experience, so it begins by focusing on Cait's perspective as she starts to navigate her way through her new life. Jenner feels an immense responsibility toward the transgender community, a thought that literally keeps her up at night. In the first episode, she is on camera at 4:30 a.m. sharing her worries about using her influential public platform in the most effective way possible. There's nothing forced about the moment. It is genuine and thoughtful. Jenner also keeps it real when she talks about her children's reactions. They've all been supportive privately and on social media, but she points out that most of them have not been to visit her as Cait. The admission shows that she isn't afraid to reveal hard truths. In this case, it's the suggestion that their carefully crafted messages of support hide a deeper unease.
The same genuineness comes through when Jenner meets her mother, Esther, for the first time as Cait. Both are nervous and at times awkward as they try to make small talk over her appearance. There's nothing scripted about Esther's reaction. She is accepting, but she is also confused, wanting to learn more. In one scene, she tells Cait that she had no idea that she was struggling with this issue throughout her life. It's a brief moment but it also expresses Esther's painful, unspoken question: How could a mother not know?
Not every moment reaches its potential for demonstrating real feelings. When Jenner's youngest daughter Kylie visits her for the first time as Cait, the conversation doesn't really move past Kylie commenting on how pretty Cait looks. Kylie also takes the opportunity to have Cait try out her line of hair extensions. The Kardashian marketing machine, it seems, never stops working. Kim Kardashian, along with her husband, Kanye West, also stop by, and while their interactions with Cait are more substantial than talking about her appearance, Kim does go through Cait's closet with her, doling out fashion advice.
But these are small parts of a bigger, more interesting picture. For a reality show in general and a show on E! in particular, "I Am Cait" achieves a noteworthy level of authenticity.
New episodes of "I Am Cait" air on Sundays on E!.
Melissa Crawley is the author of "Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing.'" She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.