By Ken Tucker
Updated June 30, 2009 at 06:34 AM EDT

This week’s Jon & Kate Plus Eight — the last new episode before a hiatus, returning Aug. 3 — reminded long-time viewers why we were so fascinated by the show, and educated anyone who’s started watching since The Scandals that this was once a lovable family unit.

Mostly a series of clips, It was so carefully edited that TLC managed to show the family’s last-season trip to Hawaii without revealing what we fans knew was the purpose of that trip: for Jon and Kate to renew their vows! This episode was subtitled “The First 10 Years,” and began with a very different-looking Jon and Kate (he, pudgier; she, brown-haired) on their honeymoon at Disneyworld. There were character sketches of each child with the original voiceover comments by both parents. They describe Alexis, for example, as “sweet and funny” and “the loudest”; Joel: “an unending fountain of whine”; and poor, doomed-to-therapy Mady is “manipulative and controlling all the time.”

Missing from the evening, however, were some of the elements that made Jon & Kate fascinating television. Kate’s phobia about germs; her insistence that the kids eat organic food and avoid sugar, which of course only made the gang crazy for sweets; and Jon’s deadpan humor in the face of Kate’s clever sarcasm. I say this without sarcasm myself: those were the days.

There was, though, a short version of the great, harrowing airplane trip (or as one of the little ones call it, a “hair-pain”) in which flight delays and re-routing frayed tempers and reduced Kate to a sobbing wreck.

We re-witnessed “family movie night” and “family camping night” (the latter in the back yard), which Kate described back then as “a family bonding-uniting experience.” As with any family undergoing the trauma of divorce, all these memories were both heartbreakingly sweet and bitterly ironic. There was a brief flurry of “all new episodes” coming up, which seem to consist of a lot of trips that solo-Jon and solo-Kate each conduct with the kids.

I hope Jon and Kate were watching Jon & Kate this night; the memories could only do them both some good as they go their separate ways.