By Mary Milliken
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – As Caitlyn Jenner plays tennis with her sister, the 65-year-old mocks her own athletic prowess with the quip “Bruce was a better tennis player than Caitlyn.”
It’s a moment of comic relief in an otherwise emotional first episode of I Am Cait, an eight-part docuseries premiering Sunday on E! that pulls back the curtain on the new life of Caitlyn Jenner, the most high-profile transgender American, an Olympic champion formerly known as Bruce.
Before Jenner came out in a TV interview with Diane Sawyer in April and appeared as Caitlyn on a Vanity Fair cover, the 1976 Olympic decathlon winner had been a staple of E! for 10 years as the patriarch on top-rated reality show Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
It’s clear from the beginning of I Am Cait that she is on a mission to educate about the challenges for the transgender community, particularly for young transgender people, and for families of people who transition.
The first episode shows Jenner’s mother, two sisters and teenage daughter Kylie seeing her for the first time as a woman.
The mother, Esther Jenner, confesses that “it’s going to be so difficult to call you Caitlyn” after she arrives at her daughter’s Malibu home.
There are many hair and make-up sessions, and time in the closet where Jenner and famous stepdaughter Kim Kardashian (appearing with rapper husband Kanye West) peruse dresses sent over by designers Tom Ford and Diane Von Furstenberg.
But before the fussing, and in the opening scene, Jenner is stripped of make-up and sleepless at 4:30 a.m. as she worries about helping transgender youth who are thinking of killing themselves. She’s had those thoughts too.
Jenner doggedly dodges paparazzi to make a visit to the family of a 14-year-old transgender boy who killed himself. She and the mother talk about how to help transgender children and the show wraps with a suicide hotline number.
Early reviews for the show, which will air in over 150 countries and in 24 languages, were positive.
“At times the tone can be stiff and cautious, like a public-service announcement,” wrote Time.com critic James Poniewozik. “But it’s a service nonetheless, lending celebrity’s un-turnoffable megaphone to the voiceless, especially kids.”
Esther Jenner pays her daughter the ultimate compliment, saying she didn’t think she could be prouder than when Bruce stood on the Olympic podium but is more so now for the courage Caitlyn has shown.
(Reporting by Mary Milliken; Editing by Eric Beech)
Photo: Caitlyn Jenner, recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award is seen on a TV set in the press room during the 2015 ESPY’s award show at Nokia Theater. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports