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'Jon & Kate Plus 8' recap: A brooding premiere

It takes ten to make a thing go right, so Jon and Kate Gosselin come together (barely) for the sextuplets’ birthday. But fans are forced to ask: Can this marriage be saved?

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Jon & Kate Plus Eight

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season

After last season’s foreboding ”will they or won’t they return?” season finale, scads of scandal, and the endless enticing ads that have been running on TLC, the highly anticipated Jon & Kate Plus 8 season premiere aired last night. And whether you were a curious first-timer or a loyal viewer, the show’s producers made absolutely certain that the big issues on everyone’s minds would be addressed right out of the gate.

Within the first seven minutes of the episode (preceded by new, albeit much shorter opening credits), Ma and Pa Gosselin are interviewed separately about the controversy that has been dogging them for weeks. Jon, looking exhausted and barely able to muster the enthusiasm to sit upright on the new couch (can we really call it a loveseat, at this point?), professes he ”did not sign up for public scrutiny” and — obviously referencing tabloid accusations that he had an affair with a young schoolteacher — ponders, ”If I paid you $20,000, who knows what you’d say?”

Yowza. Clearly, both the show’s producers and its stars weren’t planning to dance around trying to hide anything. (At this stage, how could they?) Before we even got to catch up with the cuter-than-ever kids, Kate tells us that the tabloids ”kill” her (she also asks if anyone ever thinks about the ”human on the cover” of said magazines) and that rumors of infidelity with a bodyguard make her ”furious.” She also reveals that Jon ”doesn’t feel great about me.”

Let’s look at what we learned from Kate, who at her best is anything but happy-go-lucky, and in this episode states repeatedly that she has a lot of anger. She doesn’t sugarcoat her views on her husband’s growing distance, although she claims it’s very confusing. She admits she’s been hard on Jon over the years (which, for fans is no major revelation, but it’s certainly nice to hear her acknowledge it for a change) but believes everyone’s responsible for their own choices. She struck me as genuinely upset that their current predicament ”is not where we’re supposed to be.”

In Jon’s interviews, he denied cheating on Kate, and said he ”takes full blame” for his actions. (Sort of negates the whole innocence claim, no?) And just as he did in the media when the affair allegations came to a head, he apologized to his family for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jon also expressed his fear that one day his children will Google him and that he’ll be able to explain himself to them. Oof.

I don’t know about you, but that statement was the moment when I realized my reluctance to watch this undoubtedly uncomfortable season far exceeds my interest in seeing what these two would say and how this family will reclaim, if they ever can, a ”normal” life. These kids will have to deal with this nonsense forever, long after the spotlight has faded. And yet, like millions of fans, I braced myself and continued to watch.

In a much-needed departure from talking about all the gossip and hubbub and marital strife, it was a relief to focus on the fact that the sextuplets would soon be having their fifth birthday party, or as Kate calls it, a celebration that ”we made it 5 years.”

Enter — finally — Aaden, Hannah, Collin, Leah, Alexis, and Joel, as well as the twins Cara and Mady, sitting at the lunch table. If the few minutes prior had you all bummed out, it was difficult not to crack a smile when Aaden (filling our nation’s Jonathan Lipnicki void) let out a big burp, which caused his brothers and sisters to erupt in a chorus of giggles and ewwww’s. I also enjoyed the fact that Aaden and Joel and Collin, as any proper siblings do, have recently taken to whaling on one another. Papa Jon now refers to his boys as ”The Three Stooges” for the good humor with which they beat each other up!

NEXT PAGE: Kate warns the kids about paparazzi

But not long after the episode segues into the land of the cute and endearing, we’re snapped right back into ratings bait. Kate makes clear that she needs to carry on with prepping for the sextuplets’ birthday bash (their choice, and an excellent one at that: a bouncy party) by herself because Jon, as she puts it, has decided he needs a weekend off. She takes her brood to a party store to buy supplies, warning them they’re being followed by paparazzi.

Kate then shares the fact that she asks the kids not to even use the word ”paparazzi,” and that she advises them call them the ”P people.” While I certainly respect Kate’s desire to shield her children from the spectacularly scummy paparazzi, there’s another question she might want to consider: ”Why continue to have them in the spotlight at all?” Kate feigns cluelessness about why she’s so ”interesting” to photogs, and jokingly asks why they don’t follow other moms around the parking lot, but the answer is all too obvious: What other mom has a nation of TV viewers this enthralled with her family?

The episode returns to focus on Mom and Dad as Kate talks about her time on the road, working hard to promote her books. To illustrate how painful the time away has been on her as a parent, she mentions that the kids recently called her by the babysitter’s name. Jon, asked if he’d be happier out promoting books while his wife was the one who stayed home, claims he can’t write well, and ”according to some people, can’t talk or breathe right either.” (And that was my first out-loud ”Whoa!” of the night. Keanu has nothing on me tonight.) Jon has typically bitten his tongue in past seasons, but it’s increasingly obvious that’s no longer the case. The reality TV star with his name in the title also divulges that this highly scrutinized lifestyle was ”not what I chose, it was chosen for me.”

Kate seemed sad to be doing most of the party planning alone, except for the help of Mady and Cara, who have stepped into their older sister roles. After the piñatas and party bags are stuffed, Kate, with assistance from some helpers, spearheads the setup in the park, complaining about the unseasonably cold May weather and the swarms of bugs. While not as seemingly significant as the interviews, this scene, in my opinion, was one of the most telling. Kate not only doesn’t nitpick any of her helpers (I mean is there one instance she doesn’t berate Jon for the way he’s doing something?) but she laughs off the invading bugs. Maybe she did allow herself to get lost in the moment, but did anyone else get the impression she wanted to make herself look a little more carefree than her usual self? After decorations are hung, the gang (dad arrives separately) gathers at the park for the party.

The kids each got to invite friends from school to attend their party, and seemed joyfully oblivious to the tension between their parents (the moment Jon and Kate first stood next to one another at the party was downright frosty), as well as the paparazzi looming in the distance. Leah introduced us to her pal Megan (”I hug her a lot!”) and Alexis was positively giddy to see her friend Brayden. Jon later playfully teased her about inviting a boy.

And here the episode has its most heartbreaking moment. While Jon and Alexis share a hug, the father of eight rests his head on his young daughter. His sadness is palpable. When the two pull away Alexis pleads, ”Daddy, I don’t want you to go away.” Jon stammers an answer about having to work sometimes, but the damage was already done for me. Waterworks commence!

NEXT PAGE: Will Jon and Kate make it?

During the party, a magician entertains with a gigantic fat bunny, much to the delight of the screaming youngsters, and everyone sings ”Happy Birthday” six times for each of the sextuplets (which, Kate reminds partygoers, has been done every year.) The ten Gosselins sit on a long bench for a group photo, bookended by Kate and Jon, sitting as far as possible from one another. The celebration, which Kate worries is running too long, rounds out with the whacking of piñatas (those poor Backyardigans never saw it comin’) also recalled by the kids as ”chinyadas” or ”tiñadas.” Kate reflects on how quickly the five years have gone by…and cue montage: we watch them grow up, right before our very eyes.

Finally, for the first time in the program Jon and Kate appear together on the couch, looking distant in every way possible. When asked ”what’s next?” for the couple, Kate blankly answers ”I wish I knew.” In a solo interview, Kate admits the birthday party was a bittersweet one and the obviously weary mother and wife begins to cry. While a big divorce cloud hung heavy over the entire episode, it wasn’t until this point that the marriage’s possible end was brought up. Kate talks about how the photo at the party may be the last one they take as a family (if that was the case, then why, oh, why did you snap at Jon to take off his sunglasses?) My final ”Whoa!” of the night came when she stated that like many parents of multiples, who have a much higher-than-average divorce rate, they too might split, stating that she and Jon have become two different people heading in two different directions.

In the final scenes of the episode, the kids snack on apples while Jon prepares the family’s first cookout in their new house. Intertwined with interviews from Jon and Kate saying they have their children’s best interests at heart and that even couples who are no longer together can be friendly for the kids’ sake, the last few moments seem all too sad.

There’s no way to be ”disappointed” with this episode, as it certainly exceeded my expectations for juicy information and high drama. But, it certainly wasn’t what I wanted, or have ever wanted out of this show and for the Gosselin family. Granted, it always felt like things with Jon and Kate would come to a boil, but watching it unfold feels pretty awful. Teasers for upcoming episodes show Jon and Kate doing activities with the kids separately, even during themed episodes (the plague of last season), with Emeril and the Ace of Cakes finding their way into the show.

Your turn, Jon & Kate fans: Did last night’s premiere meet your expectations? Did it depress you, or give you hope? Who do you side with, Jon or Kate? And those kids — could they be any cuter?