By Ken Tucker
Updated August 03, 2009 at 12:00 PM EDT

Those of you who’ve started watching Jon & Kate Plus Eight for the Gosselin-scandal-fodder were probably disappointed with this week’s two new, back-to-back episodes. But for us longtime fans, the series was as close to being back to normal as it’s likely to get, and for that, I’m happy.

Oh, sure, there was some gossip-fodder material. The first episode included a solo-parent Kate taking the kids on a trip to a beach resort while the family’s kitchen was being renovated. Kate said in the interview chair (no more sofa, folks — just a pristine white chair-for-one for the interview segments) that “within two-and-a-half days, we had three to five paparazzi snapping pictures… I’m not going to keep my kids inside and stifle their existence.” Kate brought along a helper, Ashley (daughter of Kate’s friend Carla, we were told), and the kids romped on the beach and in the ocean. (“This is a bikini!” squealed one of the little girls, shoving her little belly at the camera. “I ate sand!” said another.)

Meanwhile Jon Gosselin was back in their Pennsylvania home “supervising” the installation of new cabinets. He, too, lamented the paparazzi — “It’s a shame Kate and the kids had to sneak out at four a.m. to go to the beach” — but he seemed cheerful standing around watching other guys work. Jon was always less comfortable in front of the cameras, and so it was striking to see him talk to Kate via the camera, telling her at one point, “So, Kate, the floors won’t be ruined… it’s be dust-free!”

The second episode was entirely Jon-less, all about the kids camping in the backyard with Kate (with a little help from Ashley). This one contained a bit of Kate revenge, as she announced, “It’s not [the kids’] fault what transpired has transpired,” noting her new un-handy single-mom status by proclaiming, “I put a screen in a window for the first time in my life.”

Longtime viewers know the last thing Kate likes is contact with nature. A neat-freak, she is (as I think I heard one daughter put it, inventing a nice new word) “not naturous.” “Daddy knows everything about a tent,” said one of the kids as Kate floundered trying to assemble two back-yard tents. “She did a terrible job,” said almost-nine Mady, ever the grump. Kate admitted that a production assistant “very kindly” set up the bigger of the two tents for the sextuplets. They all made s’mores.

All in all, these were pretty much good old-fashioned J&K episodes, for which TLC must be breathing a sigh of relief for getting non-angry, non-controversial footage. Or maybe the network isn’t relieved, because original-style Jon & Kate shows didn’t pull in the ratings that the post-separation ones did.

No matter. The kids are as adorable and squabbly as ever. I almost choked up a bit when Kate found Aaden’s first pair of glasses in a drawer. (I have a soft spot for wide-eyed Aaden.)

Did you watch? Will you keep watching the new version of Jon & Kate?

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