By Ken Tucker
Updated August 31, 2009 at 12:00 PM EDT

In TLC’s heroic effort to keep Jon & Kate Plus Eight a viable business operation, this week’s hour-long edition crammed in: a visit to a Wyoming ranch, where Kate and the boys rode horses and made cute comments about horse-poop; a scavenger hunt back home in Pennsylvania with Jon and the girls; Kate shooting a gun for the first time (“You have any covers of the tabloids we could use as targets?”); and the youngest girls going to the dentist for a check-up. (Spoiler Alert!: Leah had two cavities, Alexis had one; Hannah had none.)

The hour had its adorable moments. The boys loved learning to ride giant steeds (“Hi, horse-cow!” yelled one of the kids) and picking eggs from a chicken coop. Kate’s cleanliness-fetish training proved useful on a farm. When one five year-old dropped an egg, he immediately said, “We can clean it up with a paper towel!” You could tell the women on the ranch loved these little guys.

But much of the hour was wearily contrived. Jon looked pretty glum as he tied string to two tin cans for the girls to “play telephone,” and I shared his barely disguised boredom when the girls put on an indoor concert singing the music of, as Jon put it, “um, famous teenybopper stuff.”

The Gosselins’ reality kept creeping in. This was, I believe, the first time Jon sat in the Pennsylvania interview chair and talked about his life in New York and how cool it is. And Kate, in the midst of the gorgeous Wyoming landscape, could only exult, “I’m totally paparazzi-free for the first time in five months!”

Meanwhile, the boys’ search for a father-figure continues. Kate talked about how much they adored one of the ranchers, Clay. And when it was time for a camera-pleasing egg-fight, the little guys had to throw theirs at… a hapless production assistant, Clark.

Kate can wear a pink cowboy hat, and Jon (gamely playing dress-up with the girls) can don a pink dress, but things still aren’t as rosy as they used to be on Jon & Kate.