Well, it was quite a Gosselin day on TV today, wasn’t it, what with Kate sobbing on The Today Show this morning.

But on the original franchise – this week’s new Jon & Kate Plus 8 episode — Jon protested to the cameras, “It’s not a mid-life crisis!” He was referring specifically to his new earrings. He said he’d had his ears pierced years ago, but only now was wearing studly studs, because, hey, “it’s who I am.”

Well, okay, Jon, but who you are is still going to be edited unflatteringly compared to Kate, who was seen on TLC doing the parenting during a North Carolina vacation trip with all eight children. “I’m trying not to feel sorry for us and myself,” said Kate.

As long-time viewers know, Kate hates messiness and nature in general, but here she was shown gamely holding a snake on a visit to a “serpentarium” (“I have to shriek,” she admitted). Even more shocking, she allowed the kids to body-paint themselves with pudding as a fun activity, a messy lark that the “old” Kate would have had a breakdown over. (In fact, the show did this activity about a year ago, and as I recall, Kate did come close to melting down faster than the pudding.)

But Kate said this night, “Me and my new attitude… my mess-o-phobia is going down every year.” I don’t know whether to feel good for her (and the kids, who are subjected to her fussiness) or badly for us as viewers, since Kate’s control-freakiness has always been central to the show’s drama.

Jon certainly remembers that. Back home in Pennsylvania, still “supervising” the remodeling of the kitchen (a role consisting of him coming in once in a while and looking over the workmen’s shoulders, blank-faced), Jon addressed the camera directly:

“It’s good they were all away, especially Kate, yelling that there’s a mess and cleaning up constantly; that would be annoying.”

Jon may not be building sympathy for himself, both on and outside the confines of the show, but he sure is more blunt these days.

But the kids, the kids: they are still great. Romping on the beach, or being stunned by the rare pleasure of having bacon for breakfast, they’re happy little campers, for the part that we see. The cameras are careful to show scenes of affection between both parents and the children, as well as one quick moment when one of the tykes says to another, “I miss Daddy more!”

And the two oldest Mady and Cara are, no surprise here, growing into what Kate called “performance mode”: part of their fantasy lives now consists of them making up TV shows and acting them out in front of TV cameras for a real TV show. How meta. This week, they called their “show” Invent, Invent, Invent! and announced, “Our first segment is going to be arts and crafts with recycling!”

That’s a perfect summation of what Jon & Kate Plus 8 is all about these days.

Did you watch? What do you think? Liking Jon’s earrings?