If any family is emblematic of our unhealthy obsession with fame, status, and image, it’s most definitely the Kardashians. The family has truly had the glow-up of the century, parlaying one of the most famous criminal cases in recent years (thanks, OJ) and a leaked sex tape into a multimedia empire, and a hard-won spot in the upper echelons of Hollywood. Not too long ago, Kim Kardashian was merely Paris Hilton’s assistant-turned-sidekick; now, she and the rest of her family are household names.
Thanks to Kris Jenner’s canny ability to keep her family in the headlines (the devil works hard, but Kris Jenner works harder), keeping up with the Kardashians is now easier than ever—especially given the monstrous social-media presences of Kim, Kylie, Kendall, et al. A casual scroll through Kylie Jenner’s flawless Instagram page can quickly lead to an obsession—and that’s where the debut episode of MTV’s True Life/Now comes in.
The season premiere follows three Kardashian acolytes from across the country, all of whom share an unnatural obsession with America’s most famous family. Graysen, a military spouse in Jacksonville, North Carolina, is an aspiring makeup artist who wants to meet Kim Kardashian more than anything; Brittany, a 20-year-old from Orlando, Florida, is a Kylie wannabe whose quest for fame knows no bounds; and Sherrah, a 26-year-old from Brooklyn, is hoping her love of plastic surgery à la Kim and Kylie will turn her humdrum job as a bartender into a gig as a “startender”—that is, a “star bartender.”
Brittany and Sherrah, the show is quick to seize on, are attracted to the glitz and glamour of a Kardashian lifestyle—and all the plastic surgery, makeup, and parties that come along with it. Graysen, on the other hand, seems to genuinely believe that he’s zeroing in on a chance to meet Kim, if only he tries hard enough. “I feel like I know them already,” he says, earnestly describing his fixation with the Kardashian family. “I have dreams about them multiple times a week, and that’s not a joke.”
As with other MTV shows, most of the conflict in the episode seems far-fetched and forced, although not without moments of poignancy. Brittany, who is unemployed and spends her spare time taking selfies like a good Kardashian, decides to throw a Hollywood-worthy soirée (she even says her Florida suburb “is like the Calabasas of Orlando”), but is dismayed by a lack of support from her friends who aren’t as smitten with Kim Kardashian as she is. “I feel like I was born into the wrong family,” Brittany tells her mother. “I was meant to be a Kardashian.” She goes on to explain that an earlier experience with bullying led her to relate to the Kardashians, especially Kim, on a deeper level, and even calls Kim her “soul mom.”
Brittany’s obsession with all things Kardashian eventually causes a rift with her close friend, Cydney, after Cydney gently tries to point out that Brittany’s fixation has gotten out of hand. Once Cydney storms off, Brittany does her best ‘Kim K crying after losing her diamond earring in Bora Bora’ face, and goes running to her mother for advice. Like Kris Jenner, Brittany’s mom is more bubbly confidante than parent; their subsequent conversation contains enough vacuous, contrived encouragements that it (rather eerily) seems more like a moment from Keeping Up with the Kardashians than a genuine conversation between mother and daughter.
Sherrah, meanwhile, is obsessed with Kardashian-esque plastic surgery—including, but not limited to, lip fillers and butt lifts. The cost for these procedures is staggering—a session for lip fillers costs around $700, and her “Brazilian butt lift” was a whopping $10,000. Money seems to be no object for Sherrah, who also has a 6-year-old son named Mason (a là Kourtney Kardashian). When her mother, who is Mason’s primary caregiver, questions her desire for even more plastic surgery, Sherrah shrugs it off. “I’m working towards our future, our Kardashian lifestyle,” she explains.
A chance for a “startending” gig soon draws Sherrah to an “audition” at a strip club. She happily shows her Instagram to the club owner, and explains her desire for a glamorous gig. After listening politely, the owner says they’re “looking for something a bit different” now, but advises her to get her lips and breasts done. Sherrah agrees to return after she’s had the procedures done, and seems unbothered by the whole thing; she explains that plastic surgery is just a way to “get more money.”
Graysen’s situation is perhaps the most pity-inducing. Living on a military base and happily married to a corporal, Graysen presented more masculine when he and his husband first got married. Recent years have seen him explore his feminine side, especially when it involves Kim K levels of contour and hair extensions. While his makeup and hair looks are most definitely fierce, it’s been hard for Graysen’s husband, Jaquan, to get used to Graysen’s new aesthetic. “My main goal is to get Kim’s attention and the attention of her team,” Graysen explains to producers, when asked about his foray into makeup. He genuinely seems to believe that he and Kim will be friends one day—a textbook sign of “celebrity worship syndrome,” according to a Dr. Cooper Lawrence, whose clinical commentary is spliced in throughout the show.
After a Kardashian-inspired photoshoot with Jaquan leads to some tension, Graysen is forced to reckon with his obsession. “I feel like when I do Kim’s glam, I’m like, that much closer to meeting her,” he says to Jaquan, tears streaking down his contoured cheeks. “I wanna get her attention because… I want to help people be fearless and be authentic as possible.”
While the irony isn’t lost on Graysen that his quest to help people discover their authenticity is predicated on aping, contour for contour, the aesthetic of one of the world’s most famous celebrities, he believes his makeup looks are “just imitation,” and a surefire way for him to “secure a future” outside his role as mere military spouse. “We don’t have to be Kim and Kanye,” he tells Jaquan tenderly. “I just like their influence on the world.”
This episode of True Life concludes with updates on Brittany, Graysen, and Sherrah: Brittany enrolled in community college and got a job, while she pursues being famous “on the side”; Sherrah is pregnant with another child, and is saving up for “mommy makeover” plastic surgery after the birth of her daughter; and Graysen, the show says, “still dreams about being friends with the Kardashians.”
Don’t we all.