On Sunday night, the world shall rejoice and dance as one, for the Kardashians are returning to the E! network—or at least the part of the world that, like me, gets its primary source of exercise from keeping up with the royal family of reality TV. I first got into the show about eight months ago, when I watched it with my girlfriend and was immediately hooked. Much like Entourage, another show I pretend to hate-watch but actually love-watch, its magic comes from watching a core group of people have the same conversation, ad infinitum but in different locales, for years on end.
On Kardashians, each character—we should think of the people on reality TV shows as characters, of course—is given a specific narrative arc that sticks with them for at least a few seasons. Kris Jenner is desperately trying to cling to her youth, Khloe is unlucky in love, Rob is fat and sad, Kim is mostly boring and makes bad jokes, Bruce Jenner struggles with being separated from Kris and lacks male friends, Kylie and Kendall Jenner are working to establish identities as adult women, and Kourtney is busy raising three children as well as her partner, the perpetual man-child Scott Disick. Whenever there is a lull in the show's action (which is often), someone either talks about her vagina or reverts to saying something that progresses their given arc. The show is the pinnacle of democracy in that whichever kharacter is the most interesting gets the most screen time.
This season, the show's tenth, looks to be the most dramatic and shocking yet, though you could have said that about every season of Kardashians. Its trailer begins with Disick trimming Khloe Kardashian's pubic hair, and only gets more absurd from there. Khloe confronts Kim about how she (Kim) had fucked her husband Kanye West (who, curiously—or maybe not curiously—rarely appears on the show) in a bathroom. Bruce Jenner chants "Bruce on the loose!" Kris may or may not be shacking up with a younger man. Scott bought four cars and is now broke. Brody Jenner, who is famous for being Bruce's son and being the focus of the extremely short-lived Bromance, drunkenly yells that Kanye doesn't care about him, which is true. It's suggested that Kylie and Kendall need therapy, which is also true. The trailer concludes with Khloe in tears, realizing that French Montana, whom Khloe dated in the spinoff Khloe and Kourtney Take the Hamptons, has broken up with her and un-gifted the white Jeep he gave her for his birthday.
Of all the storylines set up to play out this season, it's the two that are not discussed in the trailer that are the most compelling. The first is the possibility that Bruce Jenner may now be transitioning to becoming a woman, something the tabloid media has handled without even a modicum of tact. The second is that Scott Disick is a human being who continues to exist.
While at this point it's widely acknowledged that much of what we see on reality TV is at least partially a performance, and therefore part artifice, Disick is the only one on the show who seems invested in stretching reality television as an art form. For Disick, this manifests itself alternatively in him refusing to play along with the game of performative living, acting irrationally, and annoying everyone else on the show. One day he's tooling around LA doing "work" in a van he's conscripted as a "mobile office" and/or "mobile van," the next he is threatening to install a helipad in his backyard so he can more conveniently fly to Las Vegas.
The show took an unexpected turn in its Hamptons offshoot, as Disick spent much of the season bickering with Kourtney over whether or not "club appearances" count as actual work, drinking with his horrible, fratty rich friends, and going in and out of rehab for a cornucopia of addictions (definitely pills and booze, possibly cocaine). Suddenly, this weird piece of pop culture ephemera was depicting the banal, brutal realities of addiction. Kourtney kicked him out of the house for partying too much when he should be helping her raise their young children. He would up in the hospital, and viewers were unsure whether the blots of red on his pants were dye or blood. He waited in the kitchen of his friend's Manhattan apartment, preparing to ship off to rehab, looking like a man headed for the gas chamber. That these scenes were intercut with such trivialities as Khloe trying to convince French Montana to put on his shoes or Kim throwing a mini-Coachella for her daughter's birthday only put the darkness of Disick's situation in sharp relief. He was a portrait of the broken American male: insecure, anxious, and depressed, faced with the stark truth that all of the money and fame in the world cannot save him from himself.
When Disick goes dark, he becomes the American celebrity with whom I identify the most.
My own drinking career is less storied than Disick's, who at his worst seems to the central character in the world's most vapid Greek tragedy. I've never gotten a DUI, I've never gotten arrested for any drunken shenanigans, and the worst physical evidence of my drinking days is a shitty Drake tattoo. Like a lot of people do in their early 20s I drank casually and as a way to avoid the minor problems that inevitably crop up when you're a little bit too self-conscious. Feeling anxious? Not after three whiskey gingers! Writer's block? Why not mix Southern Comfort with water, call it "joke juice," and get to crankin' out content? Alcohol accelerated my nights, often until they blurred, which was by no means an unpleasant sensation. Sometimes I'd be fine, sometimes I wouldn't be fine, sometimes I'd wake up confused about various things. Whatever.
If you're familiar with how this kind of story goes, you'll have already guessed that something bad happened to me because of drinking, and you're right. The bad thing that happened to me bears an eerie resemblance to Disick's Hamptons bottoming out: Kourtney is out of town, so he invites his horrible friends over for what amounts to a nonstop party. He spends the day grilling with his buddies, drinking more beer than is medically advisable, and winds up in bed and takes a forced nap. He rallies, and he and his frat pack head to a club for an appearance. Through some unknown chemical alchemy, Disick ends the evening in the hospital, on the phone with Kourtney, bleating that it's time for him to go to rehab.
Don't get me wrong: Watching Scott Disick flap around as his bodyguard fireman-carries him up some stairs is hilarious. It is significantly less hilarious when you remember that it is the 1-percenter equivalent to the time two summers ago you were found dead-drunk by the police, sleeping on the side of the road sans shirt and shoes, and loaded into an ambulance, only to come to a couple hours later in a hospital bed, panic, try to escape said hospital, and be summarily put back into bed and strapped down. Rich people get to go to rehab. Poor people just get picked up by the cops.
That incident didn't lead to me quitting drinking at first. It took another year and a half—and a whole season of Khloe and Kourtney Take the Hamptons—to realize that drinking wasn't for me. Watching Disick fall apart on screen was more shocking than anything that had happened to me. As a rule, we like to think that we're in control pretty much all of the time, even as we alienate our loved ones—who, we tell ourselves, aren't really mad at us for drunkenly hailing a cab at IHOP and stranding them in Harlem—and slowly torch our bank accounts by spending hundreds of dollars every weekend getting to and from bars. Watching Disick nearly destroy everything around him because of alcohol was like looking in a mirror. I might not own a Rolex or be rich, but I was still a douchebag wimpering into the phone at the hospital.
On Sunday, I will join the other millions of people watching the E! network and take in in the magic of the Kardashians' particular brand of television post-modernism, watching as they complain about paparazzi as they're being filmed by TV cameras, blather about workout classes, and visit celebrity fertility doctors in attempts to get pregnant. Though tabloids have recently reported that Disick is back on the sauce, I've gone an entire month without a drop of alcohol in my system, and I couldn't feel better. (I'm not sober-sober—much to the chagrin of my actually sober friends, I still smoke weed.) I don't have any plans to start drinking again—but then again, you don't plan relapses. That's the nature of the beast. Much like trust, abstinence from alcohol is something that's built up over time, and for someone with a genuine alcohol problem, it can be hard as fuck. My hope is that seeing Disick struggle on TV with the same issues that I do in real life will provide me with the little push I need to keep going and be a little less of a douchebag than I was the day before.
Drew Millard is on Twitter.