Caitlyn Jenner’s "I Am Cait" opened so strong on the E! channel Sunday that I want to give it a straight-up rave.
I loved its willingness to try and educate the audience about transgender identity even as it winningly engaged them in Jenner's new life.
I applaud its sense of social conscience in reminding viewers at several points about how hard the transition can be for some people who aren't famous – especially for teens. The visit Jenner pays to the San Diego family of a 14-year-old who committed suicide is as touching a final segment as I've seen reality TV ever do.
And I am absolutely charmed by Jenner's personality and voice in this series. It's earnest without being tiresome, it's constantly providing new information about her journey without being preachy, and, above all else, there's a gentleness, tolerance and acceptance of others that is the opposite of most reality TV with its overload of attitude, snark and nastiness.
I know E! wants us to use the term docuseries rather than reality TV to describe the series. But since E! is one of the channels that helped give the genre such a bad name, I don't think it gets to tell anyone anything about what a series should be called.
"I Am Cait" is reality TV, but it feels so righteous in its aspirations that I am thinking it just might re-brand the genre. At the very least, it suggests what good this debased genre could be capable of in caring and intelligent hands.
So, why not give it a straight-up rave?
For one thing, the greed of the E! channel. I have not seen so many ads packed into one hour since Super Bowl, and maybe not then.
Comparing basic cable apples to apples: I don't think even the finales of "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men" had as many ads as "I Am Cait" had.
I understand the desire to sell as many ads as you can when there is a market for them, but I think it is already at the point where the producers have a hard time crafting arcs that pay off emotionally because of the short segments between commercial breaks.
You don't start a scene between Caitlyn and her mother with the older woman acknowledging her difficulty in "getting used to" the transition and not give it the time it needs to fully express the myriad of emotions flowing back and forth between the two. It's the same for the discussion of the suicide of Kyler, the 14-year-old teen from San Diego. As powerful as the two arcs were, both could have been further deepened with more time to breathe.
My hope is that the tremendous potential of this series to do good as well as make money will lead E! to absolutely treat it like a documentary rather than a cheap reality series. When I see that happening, I will be happy to use the term docuseries to describe it.