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Jon & Kate's public implosion is unsettling to watch

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 Monday of TLC's inexplicable hit Jon & Kate Plus 8 felt like a 73-minute dissertation on the hypocrisy of the unscripted TV game and the distastefulness of watching an unsavory couple's relationship die on screen. It's also a hypocrisy that paid off, drawing nearly 10 million viewers to Monday's premiere, more than double the ratings of its last original episode weeks ago.

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 returned for its fifth cycle, 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 dealing with people who actually liked the show in the past — just in time to try and get them to buy her new book!), the family only alluded to the rumors dogging them.

They never actually described what the allegations were, or how much truth there is to them — leaving viewers who didn't know the chapter and verse of their tabloid adventures in the dark.

Fans already know the series has morphed from showing an average couple struggling to care for 8-year-old twins and 5-year-old sextuplets to a series mostly about their life as stars of TLC's highest-rated series. Monday's episode continued the trend, highlighting the paparazzi trailing the family as Kate takes the children shopping by herself.

During a birthday party for their sextuplets that seems set up for the cameras (somehow, Kate had two "helpers" and two production assistants working with her to decorate for the party, but no Jon). By the time Jon arrived — he had taken the weekend off because he needed the break, Kate says unconvincingly — his wife was treating him like any woman might treat a guy who had cheated on her.

Throughout the episode, the two of them could barely stand to share the same space — a difficult proposition for a show supposedly based on a couple raising eight kids together.

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 for the children to survive this perversely public emotional breakdown?

Jon & Kate's public implosion is unsettling to watch 05/26/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 10:16pm]
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