November 23, 2009 at 12:00 PM EST

“I feel like it’s been taken from us, from me and the kids.” Kate Gosselin was talking about Jon & Kate Plus Eight, the TV series that ended this week after five seasons due to the disagreements between Jon and Kate. The hour mixed direct-to-camera, separate interviews with Kate (“The kids are already missing [the show]”) and Jon (“I became more educated about myself… I felt like I was free [after the separation]”).

The last edition followed its now-usual format: separate activities with each parent. Kate took the kids to an organic farm where cows were milked. Jon organized a lemonade stand to raise money for the local fire department. In a repulsive moment that typified why this series had to end, the older kids, twins Mady and Cara, started bickering and complaining as they worked on signs for the lemonade stand. One of them whined, “I like stuff we do with Mommy.” Jon, as though stung by this, immediately snapped, “Alright, you’re gonna go into the house. Both of you… You’re unappreciative.” Only the sextuplets were allowed to go to the firehouse and sell lemonade. The punishment didn’t fit the crime.

At one point, the fireman raised a truck ladder high into the sky and we heard one of those comments that used to make Jon & Kate such a pleasure. As the ladder rose, one of the kids chirped to a fireman, “You’re gonna hurt the birds!”

Many of you have asked why I continued to write about this show week after week. First, let’s be honest: It’s partly because so many of you wanted to talk about it in the Comments section. Love ’em or hate ’em, the Gosselins inspired a lot of response.

But there’s another reason. I started watching the show during its first season. I was just a casual viewer; the series didn’t have a season pass on my DVR. But if I was home or in a hotel room and an episode came on, I’d find that I’d always end up watching the entire thing, because the series was (hard as this is to believe now) completely charming. I remember most of the episodes they showed this last night in a quick montage, whether it was family movie-night, or the clan’s once-annual walk to the local Fourth of July parade, the little ones waddling along behind Jon and Kate like ducklings. The kids were adorable and funny, and the interactions between Jon and Kate seemed unguarded, fresh, often amusing, and sometimes provocative.

Provocative because Kate’s strict rules about order, discipline, cleanliness, and healthy nutrition sometimes smacked into Jon’s more laid-back, what-did-I-get-myself-into attitude. But the yelling and the bickering was always the exception, not the rule.

I would guess that the majority of those of you who’ve written negative comments about Jon & Kate here only started watching less than a year ago, after the episode in which Jon and Kate renewed their marriage vows in Hawaii. You’d probably read something that was just starting to emerge on-camera: the fighting was more intense, it was bitter. It was reality TV that wasn’t a goof or a lark; these weren’t (yet) wealthy celebrities; these weren’t zonked-out, pampered pop stars, or spoiled-brat L.A. or Manhattan twerps. These were suburban parents trying to come to terms with the dissolution of their union and their sudden fame as tabloid figures.

All that stuff ruined Jon & Kate Plus Eight. Some old-faithful viewers dropped out in disgust. But I and many, many people who were charmed by the initial seasons couldn’t help but see it through to the end. Think of it like, oh, like being a fan of Heroes — there’s a chunk of its audience that’s hanging in there, because those viewers feel they’ve put in the time and want to see how it ends.

Well, this week, we saw how Jon & Kate Plus Eight ends. Parents in separate places, justifying their behavior, when they should be worried about just one thing:

Whether or not they’re going to hurt the kids — hurt those “little birds.”

Please feel free to comment on the finale, or offer your general feelings about Jon & Kate Plus Eight. Thanks.

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