Kim Kardashian’s “American Horror Story” Role Is Less Acting and More Branding
When “American Horror Story: Delicate” premiered in September, it felt like the whole internet cried out at once: “Kim Kardashian is so great in it!” TMZ literally sent a push alert about it. But having actually watched the season so far, let me be clear: Kardashian’s first serious foray into acting is overhyped.
If you haven’t been watching, in the 12th season of “AHS,” Emma Roberts plays Anna Victoria Alcott, who very much wants to get pregnant and win an Oscar. The two desires often come into conflict in ways that don’t really make sense, though that’s the fault of a weak script more than anyone’s performance (though Roberts, who plays Anna as meek and dull, is unconvincing as a starlet with big ambitions). Anna is surrounded by a hapless husband (“Gilmore Girls“‘s Matt Czuchry), an obviously nefarious doctor (Denis O’Hare), and many other characters played by staples of the Ryan Murphy-verse. And then there’s Kardashian, who plays PR maven Siobhan Corbyn, who’s going to get Anna that Oscar no matter what (that’s the spooky part).
It’s not that Kardashian is bad in the role, per se. It’s that she’s asked to do absolutely nothing but be herself (though a little more stilted in scripted form). “Delicate” does not want you to forget for a second that this is Kim Kardashian acting, and isn’t that such a fun little meta joke? But it gets old fast.
There are, of course, times when you’ll watch something starring someone very famous and need a bit to settle into them as their character and not their celebrity. But good enough actors, no matter how famous, can do it. But that’s not the goal here. “AHS” doesn’t want you to separate the real Kardashian from Siobhan. It’s just as much of a stunt as Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner playing a couple in 2010’s “Valentine’s Day” (an underrated film, but not the point).
Take episode five, for example, when Siobhan berates someone for taking her phone because it has “millions” of dollars worth of deals inside it – you’re not supposed to be thinking about what a powerful businessperson Siobhan is, or what those deals could possibly be. You’re supposed to be thinking about the deals Kardashian does all the time. You’re supposed to think about her recent Fortune Magazine cover, which she was so excited about, she made it her birthday cake this weekend.
Many have framed Kardashian’s entry into acting in “Delicate” as a turn away from the business deals (and lawyerly aspirations) that have defined her public image in recent years, but her role as Siobhan actually only emphasizes those aspects of her life more. Kardashian is such a boss, she can only play a boss on TV. In a better show, Kardashian’s role here would have her poke fun at herself and her public image. But “Delicate” never goes far enough to be funny or weird or memorable with the character. It feels like another stage of branding in Kardashian’s overly branded life.
Ultimately, I’m not particularly enjoying this season of television. Pregnancy and motherhood are plum topics to mine for horror. I think of the bloody birth scenes in “House of the Dragon” or 2022’s tragically under-watched horror comedy series “The Baby.” In July, The New York Times and Serial Productions released a nonfiction podcast miniseries called “The Retrievals” about women who had horrific experiences while receiving fertility treatment at Yale, and one episode of that podcast is much scarier than any episode of “Delicate” could be. Instead of dealing with the actual horrors pregnancy brings up, “Delicate” invents absurd ones. Compared against the real world, where doctors do ignore pregnant people’s pain (with dire and deadly consequences), “Delicates”‘s machinations feel unserious.
But again, that’s not Kardashian’s fault. Instead, her appearance provides cover for the ways the series fails, a hot-button topic that has people talking. And ultimately, that’s probably the only way Kardashian is measuring her acting success.
The first five episodes of “American Horror Story: Delicate” are streaming now on Hulu. Part two of the series will premiere in 2024.