The Kardashian empire is built on many things, including but not limited to: sex, waist trainers, tea laxatives, wigs of human hair, and Kris Jenner’s unparalleled business acumen. But after 12 seasons of eating Asian chicken salads and progressively darkening their contours, the first family of reality TV is ready to expand their television empire. Enter Rob & Chyna, the E! television experience dedicated to the Kardashians’ freshest pair of subplots: Rob Kardashian and his pregnant fiancée, Blac Chyna.
Previously, Blac Chyna was a minor pawn on the Kardashian’s chessboard, most famous for dating Tyga, Kylie Jenner’s current boyfriend/tax dependent. Chyna infamously feuded with Kylie on social media, as one grown woman and one 17-year-old girl competed over the affections of the rapper behind “Rack City.” But while Jenner was busy trying to convince the world that she invented matte lip gloss, Chyna magically outmaneuvered the entire Kardashian koven by getting engaged to Rob Kardashian, thus forcing the Kardashians’ to accept her as one of their own.
But when God closes an Instagram feud, he opens a spinoff show. If nothing else, Rob & Chyna acts as a perfect example of the Kardashians’ unflappability and ingenuity. Rob and Blac Chyna’s union had the potential to estrange Robert from his sisters and his family forever. Instead, it led to a new reality TV show and months of free press coverage to promote it. Essentially, the Kardashians manufactured a thick, tangled web of drama only to consume it into their own vast empire, ultimately making them stronger. The Kardashians are the human centipede of drama.
Rob & Chyna operates on a very simple premise. Sometimes, when two inherently interesting people—say, the only male child in the strongest matriarchy this side of Mosuo, and a former exotic dancer turned hip-hop video girl—love each other very, very much, they give birth to something magical: a reality TV show. Rob and Blac Chyna’s creation charts their relationship as they navigate the highs and lows of nascent on-screen coupledom—their first pregnancy, their first voiceovers, and their first 20 unannounced visits from Kris Jenner. Asking if this new show, which premiered on Sunday night on E!, is “good” is almost beside the point. You don’t watch Rob & Chyna to be entertained—you watch it because it’s important, talked-about television, like Trump in Mexico or that episode of Bachelor in Paradise when Chad shit his pants. Keeping up with the Kardashians isn’t just a show anymore—it’s a form of pop culture currency. Luckily, if you’re willing to overlook E!’s dubious decision to feed all of their footage back through the Photo Booth comic book filter, Rob & Chyna makes for pretty painless viewing.
The premiere opens on our heroic couple on a romantic hike. It’s immediately clear that Rob & Chyna will be relying on the Kardashian formula for reality TV success, which is equal parts shapely butts in athleisure wear and plot lines so mundane that they border on the absurd. Chyna and Rob fill us in on their relationship backstory, as if this is a newspaper wedding announcement and not a reality TV show about two actually famous people that we already know everything about. Chyna reminds us that she met Rob at Kendall Jenner’s sweet 16, on the heels of her and Tyga’s breakup. Rob explains that he proceeded to hit her up for about a year with minimal results—“texting her, texting her, texting her.” After 12 months of read receipts, Chyna decided to give the famously private Kardashian a chance. Shortly after, the couple got pregnant. While this pregnancy was certainly a surprise to the rest of us, it wasn’t a surprise to Rob and Chyna, who had been trying “a few times every day” to conceive. Rob is understandably excited about this budding relationship; according to him, he spent the last three or four years “in the dark,” gaining weight and shutting himself out from the outside world. Rob’s well-documented depression is clearly going to be the A-plot of this spinoff show, and I for one am intrigued to see how Ryan Seacrest manages to tie up one man’s debilitating brain disorder in six hour-long episodes, give or take a few commercial breaks.
Early on, Chyna tells us that, “If a girl fights with you, that means she loves you.” In reality television, a relationship red flag in the first act ensures at least one massive blowout by the third. But before we see the drama and spill the tea, we have to meet the cast. While Blac Chyna and Rob are clearly the stars of the show, they’ve put together an ensemble that’s more than worthy of sharing their spotlight. First, there’s nanny Joy, baby King’s nanny who doubles as Blac Chyna’s emotional rock. Next, there’s Paige, Chyna’s best friend, and the rest of Chyna’s entourage, which seems to consist of a couple of guys who drive her around and may or may not live in her house.
Blac Chyna explains that she used to be close with Kim Kardashian, but then distanced herself from the family once her baby daddy started dating a Jenner. Next, we get some more Rob exposition by way of Scott Disick, who chauffeurs his sort-of brother-in-law around throughout the episode, taking him on errands and asking him probing questions at red lights. Kendall Jenner is a supermodel, and Kim Kardashian is probably Kanye West’s only remaining PR rep, but Scott Disick’s relentless attempts to draw a sound bite out of Rob Kardashian just might earn him the title of hardest working Kardashian. Rob confides to Scott that he doesn’t like going out because he hates the way he looks in paparazzi photos. Scott recalls accompanying the diabetic Kardashian to the hospital, and reveals that Rob Kardashian isn’t exactly #HealthGoals, remarking, “I can’t believe you just don’t take insulin and don’t give a shit.” Touché, Lord Disick.
At the doctor’s office, Chyna and Rob learn that they’re having a baby girl. They decide that they want to keep the sex of the baby a secret, so that they can really shock the world through a well planned out Instagram and/or motorcycle-based PR stunt. Unfortunately, the best laid plans of mice and men are no match for Kris Jenner. The Kardashian matriarch promptly shows up at Chez Chyna with an outlandishly large pink present. While Kris is visibly overjoyed to add another female specimen to her client list, Chyna is less than pleased with Rob’s inability to keep a secret from his mother.
Shit really starts to hit the fan when Rob reaches for his girlfriend’s phone in bed, only to find that Blac Chyna changed the passcode. Rob is irrationally jealous, and wants to know who is hitting Chyna up at this ungodly hour as Chyna reasonably muses, “Who do you think I’m texting?... I’m four months pregnant.” Chyna has multiple businesses, one of which involves selling fake eyelashes made with real human hair—she doesn’t have any time for Tinder and/or Robert’s nonsense. Rob admits that he’s overly suspicious, citing the fact that “The girl that I was with before, she burned me in 100 different ways.” 2016: the year of Rita Ora subtweets. Also, I’d like to take a moment to admire the fact that Blac Chyna doesn’t pretend that she spends her entire day in full glam, as evidenced by the real star of this fight, Blac Chyna’s bedtime beanie.
Because we have to fit an entire emotional arc into 50 minutes, Rob and Chyna’s fight escalates very quickly. Rob tells Chyna that he is still texting females, but it’s not even like that. Chyna thinks that it is, in fact, like that—if Rob wasn’t cheating, why would he accuse his pregnant girlfriend of stepping out on him? Chyna tells Paige that Rob has even accused her of sleeping with Tyga, and Paige apathetically remarks that Blac Chyna probably shouldn’t do something crazy. Chyna takes this off-the-cuff comment as some sort of dare, and starts full-out screaming at Rob on the phone. Chyna wants to know “Why the fuck are you still texting bitches?” Rob, who is clearly as confused as the rest of us about the escalation of this apparent miscommunication, asks, “What are you even trying to do right now?” But Blac Chyna and her producers know exactly what they’re doing; she tells Rob to “have a nice life by yourself!” This is the best scene in this episode. It also features a standout post-drama talking head from BFF Paige, who doesn’t blame Blac Chyna for being “irate.” God bless you, Paige, and God bless your word-a-day calendar. Malika better watch her back.
The rest of the episode unrolls in predictable fashion: through a series of minor ripples extending from Rob and Chyna’s seismic cellular shootout. Rob brings her flowers, which Chyna promptly throws in the pool; Rob discloses that this isn’t the first time Chyna has kicked him out of the house. Luckily, nanny Joy, who has clearly watched her fair share of Bachelor reruns, is ready and able to tell her employer that she’s putting up an emotional wall. Unperturbed by her hired help’s blatant unprofessionalism, Chyna pats around her lash line with her acrylic nails in a half-assed attempt to mimic the production of human tears.
Blac Chyna wants to make things right, but Rob won’t pick up his phone. Apparently, “he’s never been MIA for this long”—24 hours—so Chyna decides to go hunting around Rob’s bushes for a key and break into his Calabasas home. Finding the depressingly under-decorated mansion utterly Rob-less, Chyna goes to Kasa Kris looking for answers. Paige gives me another reason to love her by forcefully refusing to physically enter the force field of Kris Jenner’s home. Chyna has a serious chat with “Miss Kris,” who is wearing a full lemonade dress. Sometimes the Kardashians are so full of shade that they don’t even make sense. After five minutes with Kris Jenner, Blac Chyna realizes—for the first time? —that she might not be able to singlehandedly ameliorate Rob’s crippling depression. This scene is a downer.
Back at Chyna’s place, our heroine is crying about some jelly that’s missing from her fridge. Paige, patron saint of E!, points out that Chyna has no one to blame but herself—she eats biscuits and bagels every day. The real problem, of course, is that Chyna is worried that she and Rob are incapable of communication—plus, she’s “looking for a man.” Paige retorts, “I understand, but this is what you chose to deal with.” Blac Chyna leaves the kitchen defeated, jelly-less, and dragged. Meanwhile, Kris is cooking up some turkey bacon for Rob and urging him to just hang in there. The episode fades out on an image of Blac Chyna, lounging in a full white robe, contemplating her impending marriage to a 30-year-old man with mommy issues who owns a designer sock line.