Family bliss has been replaced by marital dysfunction, but the wretched spectacle continues. The real question is: Why do we keep watching?
We're a little loath to discuss the ugly matter, but it is maybe the biggest thing that happened on TV last night, so we're sort of obliged. Of course we are talking about the post-separation return of Jon & Kate Plus 8, TLC's once cuddly, now mostly depressing reality series about young parents with 100 kids. When last we left our heroes -- younger fattening party boy Jon, tightly wound Sydney Opera House-hairdo'd Kate -- they had announced their separation. The pressures of fame and kids and cameras had damaged the fledgling marriage beyond repair. There they sat on their iconic couch (alone, filming separately) and told us the inevitable, defeated news. It was a sad scene. But TLC's got millions of dollars tied up in this fiasco, as do its overly-eager stars, so the circus must press on.
So last night they returned! There are chairs now, one for each of them, no longer a communal love seat. The parents have decided to take turns with the little ones, so while Kate is fitfully trying to set up an enormous tent (we half expected to find the whole Osmond clan sitting in that gigantic thing when Kate had finished putting it together), Jon is wrestling once again with home repair. Though, because the show has taken off, it's no longer Jon and weary, erstwhile Uncle Kevin struggling to build shelves or organize the garage. No, now it's a fleet of fancy builders installing custom cabinets in their new palatial kitchen while Jon supervises. The whole thing just felt terribly off, didn't it?
For a lot of reasons. Because the babies have gotten too old. They're still cute, sure (though they are teetering on the brink of last-season-of-Full House, when the Olsen girls went suddenly from cute toddlers to gangly kids), but they're just so painfully aware of the cameras now. They're doing little set-ups and poses. All of the charmingly messy ramble of the show has been drained and replaced with creaky and forced performance.
The parents aren't much better. They plaster optimistic expressions on their faces while they go about the grim work of bartering their children's lives for financial gain. The whole conceit when the project started was that the couple was doing the show to raise the necessary money to care for their massive brood. And we sorta believed it. But now it's warped into a fame vehicle for these two nobodies from rural Pennsylvania. Stripped of their adorable litter, would any of us honestly give a damn about some widening frat boy and his architecturally-coiffed bride, shuffling around outside of Harrisburg? Hint: Probably not.
Really we're mostly disappointed with TLC. For still playing their cheerful intro music even as the world crumbles around this family. For still shoving it down our throats as family-positive programming when it's really a study of how fame and financial windfall are the quickest of cancers. TLC, when pressed and stretched out, is The Learning Channel. Perhaps we're learning something? Something about the insidiousness of greed? Something about the unreality of reality television? Whatever it is, we're not sure it's a lesson we really needed. What with all those other classes in Hills-onomics and Idol-statistics we've been taking for years now. Jon & Kate used to be the welcome and warm rebuttal to all that. And now it's just part of the pigpile. We wish TLC had done the noble thing and pulled the plug.
But, since they haven't, we guess we'll keep watching. 'Cause, you know, despite all our moralizing, it's still pretty fascinating! Anyone up for an awkward discussion about new kitchen cabinetry??