Jon and Kate Plus Angst

Jon and Kate Plus Eight used to be the kind of show you could watch without really watching.

After mastering the basics — Pennsylvania parents Jon and Kate Gosselin had twins and then, hoping for just one more, ended up with sextuplets — the rest of the show passed in a blur of cuteness and crocodile tears. Toss in a few infidelity rumors, however, and suddenly you’ve got must-see TV.

As hard as it was to watch last week’s season premiere, it was just as hard to look away. At their best, Jon and Kate never seemed to be the most loving couple in the world but now they’re absolutely frigid. They abandoned tag-team confessionals for solo appearances on the Couch of Exposition. In between awkward silences, Jon and Kate worked their way through at least a few of the twelve stages of grief over their shattered relationship.

A record number of viewers tuned in to watch the Gosselins implode. I wonder how those who came back for another round felt about this week’s installments, which glossed over the salacious gossip — Jon “just happened” to schedule a skiing trip during Kate’s birthday, the couple announced that they are too “busy” for regular co-appearances on the Couch of Exposition.

The tabloids are bursting with tales of the couple’s supposed secret lives, both together and apart. But I think what went wrong has a lot more to do with what regular viewers have seen, than what we didn’t see. TLC is promoting new episodes of the show with a cavity-inducing commercial in which the Gosselins frolic to the tune of “Everyday People” by Sly and the Family Stone.

Problem is, Jon and Kate stopped being everyday people a long time ago. Kate got thinner and blonder. Jon became fitter and less bald. The family’s house got bigger, their cars fancier and the regular outings and freebies more elaborate. Both parents quit their jobs. Jon stayed home with the kids and, if the season premiere is any indication, had plenty of time to resent Kate’s new career — celebrity mom.

Plenty of posters on anti-Gosselin message boards will tell you that having their lives taped is damaging the kids for life. The kids were so young when the filming began, I doubt they remember life any other way. At ages 5 and 8, however, they’re old enough to know when things aren’t right with Mom and Dad. If the tension is clear to the audience, there’s no way the kids don’t feel it too, no matter how many times Jon and Kate tell magazines the opposite.

In a recent article in Entertainment Weekly, Jon said he reluctantly agreed to continue the show because of the “positives” it offers, i.e. “material things”. But any kid who’s ever laid awake listening to Mom and Dad fight could tell Jon that material things don’t mean a lot if your parents are at war. It seems like he and Kate need a lot more convincing. Viewers can help — by changing the channel and sending the Gosselins back into obscurity.