Four score and three hundred tabloid covers ago, “Jon & Kate Plus 8” left the air with great uncertainty. During the interim following news of their impending split, many wondered how TLC could drag its 10-headed cash cow back to TV in any way that wasn’t completely exploitative? Did they succeed? All depends on your viewpoint.
The network aired back-to-back episodes tonight, the first of which led into a “cliffhanger” that actually didn’t get addressed in the second episode. In fact, the two weren’t remotely related at all. The first episode, centered around a kitchen remodel, took place in the first half of 2009, pre-divorce papers. The second half, in which Kate tried keep her kids happy in a backyard camp-out, took place after Jon had split for the land of expensive NYC flats and snogging anything with legs. You would be forgiven if you felt like the show could be renamed “(500) Days of Gosselin.”
For those viewers expecting massive fireworks in these initial episodes…well, they were out of luck. Jon and Kate barely spent any time in each other’s presence during the first episode, and Jon was completely absent from the second one. While Jon’s absence cast a shadow on the other nine, it wasn’t a very long one. You could look at this and say, “Well, Jon had been hardly around for some time now. Of course it wasn’t a big deal.” You could also look at this as say, “I’d pity Kate more if she didn’t have a surrogate parent in the form of Ashley and a small army of PAs ready to help pitch a tent that wouldn’t kill her youngest children in the middle of the night.”
But what both sides saw, irrespective of personal perspective, was the almost benign, boring way in which life goes on after divorce. The cynic in me saw Kate’s actions in the camping episode as her own personal reinvention in the eyes of America, with her pitching a tent as the modern, poor man’s version of Dustin Hoffman learning to cook for his kid in “Kramer vs. Kramer.” The optimist in my wife saw a very different Kate: one still with clutter- and chaos-based phobia but one a lot more willing to let life come to her. The truth is somewhere in the middle, and those shades of grey will be water cooler fodder throughout the next few days.
But for how much longer? That’s the question. The show’s return to the air will undoubtedly reinvigorate buzz about the family, but in some ways, the central premise of the show is over. That premise–Can this couple survive the stress of raising two sets of multiples?–has been answered. Were this a work of fiction, it would have ended as it did before the show went on hiatus: watching a family we knew to be broken having one last brunch together, future hopeful but uncertain. But in a weird twist, this being a reality program means we now see what happens after the credits roll.
The answer? Pretty much the same thing as before! And the desire from some to see more than that says much more about the viewer than it does the family. Maybe you wanted to see the kids desperately missing Jon. Seeing them not miss him almost hurt more. Sure, they asked about him a few times (often while expressing a pretty prehistoric viewpoint on the female ability to produce fire), there was no real difference in their interpersonal dynamic due to his absence. If you’re Jon, you’re sitting at home tonight either peeved at that way TLC jumped fully on-board the Kate train tonight, or you’re completely depressed at watching just how well things are going on without you.
So the show will plod along, and if TLC is lucky/evil, there should be a nice meltdown around sweeps period in which the reality of Jon and Kate’s divorce strikes a child to his or her core. In the meantime, we’re left with two adults gamely putting on their best face to the kids and gamely showing off their best side to America. They’ve both decided that continuing in the spotlight is in the best interest of the kids. Now it’s up to us to decide if we agree with them or not.
Should the show be back on the air? Will you keep watching? Is the show better serving the kids or the parents in the long run? Leave your thoughts below!
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