If there’s a game to play — and there always is — Blac Chyna (née Angela Renée White) is probably winning it. After turning her modern-day tragedy (Tyga. Kylie. Lots of Insta-beef) into a success story for the Snapchat era, the former model and Instagram star fully infiltrated the Kardashian family and is now enjoying the spoils of her conquest: Instagram followers, Elle spreads, Kanye references, a People cover, and of course, the all-important E docuseries chronicling her budding relationship with Rob Kardashian.
I had high hopes for Rob & Chyna. Maybe it would deliver evidence of Chyna’s dismantling of the Kardashian empire from the inside. At the very least it would be a televised version of Chyro’s Snapchat, showing Rob and Chyna as a bizarrely perfect couple, getting healthy and building their own empire — Kardashian-adjacent programming with a slightly more relatable set of values. (Not too relatable, though — this is still Rob and Chyna.) But after the sluggish first episode, I’m a little worried that we will get nothing but flower-throwing, screaming-into-the-phone-fighting, standard-E-show drama. And that’s because it’s still not clear what Chyna wants the world to think about her — or more importantly, what E (a.k.a. the Kardashian Network) is going to let the world think about her.
Let’s start with the good stuff: Chyna herself is captivating to watch, and her arc to fame — from stripper to urban model to self-made entrepreneur and burgeoning reality TV star — is the version of Lean In that I wish existed. One thing Rob & Chyna does well? It clearly demonstrates why she’s worth watching: She’s a great mom to King (the son she had with Tyga), and King is very cute. (Somebody please get him and North West in matching Gucci.) Chyna is fun, as is her circle friends. Also, she has an enviable collection of wigs and outfits and can manage several hair and costume changes in, like, one scene. Can you imagine being the kind of woman who can pull that off? I’d love to know what that’s like. That’s why I watch.
Well, for that and the drama. Because of course a “docuseries” can’t just be a pleasant montage of Chyna being awesome — there are also some interesting enhanced (if not totally manufactured) plotlines: Chyna’s post-Tyga relationships with the Kardashians, Rob’s depression, and especially Chyna’s interactions with Kris, the matriarch, whom she respectfully calls Ms. Kris. They vibe so much that I wish this show were called Ms. Kris & Chyna and just followed those two around to various business meetings.
But instead of focusing on all of that good, the first episode immediately lurches into “bad, manufactured, possibly sponsored drama.” After two seconds of them being adorable together (hiking, finding out the sex of their baby), Rob looks at Chyna’s phone, and she gets mad. Somehow the whole situation zero-to-one-hundreds to the now-famous and explosive line “ARE YOU STILL TEXTING BITCHES, YES OR NO?” It devolves from there: Rob yells, Chyna yells, Rob tries to apologize, Rob gets kicked out of the house, Chyna’s mom gives her a wise speech. Kris gives Rob and Chyna a wise speech. Neither of them budge. And my guess from the coming-this-season trailers is that it’ll be this, repeated ad nauseam for another five episodes. It’s like dealing with that friend who’ll never, ever dump her toxic partner, no matter how many times you make her listen to Beyoncé. Except here we’ve chosen to opt in — and maybe even gotten cable for the sole purpose of opting in — so it’s even more insulting.
The best-case scenario for this show was a cute, Newlyweds-style docuseries. Instead, Rob & Chyna is flirting with a stale and disappointing stereotype — and worse, the show never gives the impression that Chyna (again: self-made entrepreneur!) is in control of how she’s portrayed. If she were, would she want the episode’s cliffhangers to hinge on Rob’s taking a paternity test or his calling her a “psycho bitch”? A relationship, a pregnancy, mental health issues, and the bizarre joys of living life on the B-minus list should provide enough natural material. Instead, Rob & Chyna piles on the already-seen-it melodrama. Why hype volatile fights when the invented drama should — and very easily could! — just hinge on Rob and Chyna arguing over which Hawaiian island to go to for the babymoon? I’d rather watch that show.
The narrative of this show should be (and sort of promised to be) Rob & Chyna figure out their life, but instead it’s “watch the Kardashians move from reluctantly supportive of this relationship to angelically supportive even though it seems like a train wreck.” And if it feels like Chyna doesn’t control this narrative, well, that’s because she doesn’t: Just like every show within the Kardashian universe, Rob & Chyna is a Kardashian-produced opportunity for more cross-platform brand building. We’re seeing Chyna learn that working with them means observing the laws of that universe — especially the two most important ones: that no plot line can ever really tarnish a Kardashian/Jenner’s reputation and every Kardashian must end an episode looking better than they did when they started. The show is called Rob & Chyna — but the more interesting half of its titular couple feels a lot like a supporting character.