Jon minus Kate equals 73 minutes of shameful, heart-rending TV
It's hard to believe a family that has made a career of exposing their inner lives on an unscripted TV series has the gumption to complain about paparazzi or insist their marital problems are private business.
But the return tonight of TLC's inexplicable hit Jon & Kate Plus 8 felt like a 75-minute dissertation on the hypocrisy of the unscripted TV game and the distastefulness of watching an unsavory couple's relationship die onscreen.
Headlines have been filled with the Gosselin family's problems: husband Jon has been caught hanging out late with a young woman who is not his wife, and letting her sunbathe on his lawn when his wife was out on a book tour. Wife Kate has faced her own allegations, leaving Jon to care for their eight children while jetting out on book tours and speaking engagements, sparking talk she is involved with her bodyguard.
As their show returns, the couple's frosty relationship left producers little choice but to address the issues -- sort of.
Besides whining about photographers stalking them (and Kate finally admitting she'd been a bit of a jerk about people who liked the show in the past -- just in time to try and get them to buy her new book), the family only alludes to the rumors dogging them.
They never actually describe what the allegations are, or how much truth there is to them -- leaving viewers who don't know the chapter and verse of their tabloid adventures in the dark. Jon's sister makes some salty allegations to Us Magazine here.
During a birthday party for their sextuplets that feels totally set up for the cameras (somehow, Kate Gosselin has two "helpers" and two production assistants working with her to set up the party, but no Jon). By the time Jon arrives -- he'd taken the weekend off because he needed the break, Kate says unconvincingly -- his wife is treating him like she'd treat a guy who cheated on her.
Throughout the episode, the two of them can barely stand to share the same space -- a very difficult proposition for a show supposedly based on a couple raising eight kids together. And Jon Gosselin's insistence that he never cheated on his wife rings hollow, given how she treats him during the episode.
In separate interviews, Jon confesses that he never wanted a family life centered on a reality TV show. Kate admits that he probably resents the way she leaves to serve her new career as an author and public speaker, conceding that she probably pushed him too hard while denying it could have caused their current problems -- whatever they are.
As somebody who has been married nearly 18 years, I wouldn't dare try to guess at the intricacies of another couple's marriage. But TLC seems bent on relating half-truths and veiled controversies, forcing two people who seem painfully distant to live out their estrangement before a national TV audience.
Some might call it poetic justice -- given allegations the couple hasn't been forthcoming about their issues for years. But I kept thinking of the 8 in the show's title: how many years of therapy, sparked by their parents' tabloid-fueled breakup, will be required?