The two back-to-back editions of the new specials Kate Plus Eight could have used a combo-title: The Horror, The Horror.

In the first, which TLC called “6th Birthday Surprise,” the Jon-less Kate Gosselin took her eight kids to Florida’s Discovery Cove to shriek at alligators and coo over dolphins. Kate did the shrieking and cooing — the kids were much better-behaved than that:

The idea in this first hour was to prove how much the Gosselin twins and sextuplets missed the Jon-enforced hiatus from filming the TLC show that made the clan famous. “I missed you guys a lot!” squealed one of the kids as the production team re-entered the Gosselins’ Pennsylvania home. “Everything is back to normal!” yelped another one. The camera operators obliged with hugs and horsey-rides, and as one child said, “The crew got sweated.” Kids say the darnedest things — Art Linkletter must have been rolling over in his new grave.

In happier days, it was easy to buy in to the Jon & Kate Plus Eight scenario, because the children were so little, and Jon and Kate were such a team, that the family really had to ignore the cameras and react to each other as they cooked meals or took a family walk to the local 4th of July town parade. (You remember the pre-paparazzi days, some of you, I know you do.)

But now everything is tinged with weary familiarity and bitterness. Kate talked about how she let Jon have the sextuplets on their actual sixth-year birth date, making sure to add that the kids came home “chewing huge wads of gum.” (Translated: The bastard gave them sugar!) Kate sat in the airport before the Florida flight and told the kids all the things they were going to have a “meltdown” over during their trip — was it any wonder that the temperamentally-moody Mady threw a few massive temper fits? Mom practically compelled them into existence.

My wife pointed out that Kate has a new way to refer to her long-standing crabby behavior with the children: “low blood sugar,” an apparently undiagnosed excuse for losing it during moments when the kids are squalling in their airline seats or disagreeing on what to eat in a restaurant. What were Kate’s parting words during this first episode? That the sextuplets’ sixth birthday “just means that I’m old.” It was edited to seem as though it was all about her.

The second hour was called “Inside Kate’s World”: Thrilling footage of the Great Hair Extension Operation, Kate’s historic Dancing With the Stars appearances, and testimony from silver-fox hunk-bodyguard Steve Neild:

Bodyguard Steve was seen canceling a DWTS practice during a limo ride with Kate, who said tearily, “I don’t have the mind capacity to dance.” He spoke of the threats Kate receives “in the mailbox and on her doorstep.” Steve said “people either love her to bits or they hate her.”

This second hour was all about Kate as a media figure both willing (it’s “my job,” she said repeatedly, which I guess included the 9 a.m.-to-1 a.m. the following day hair-extension application) and unwilling (balking at a book-signing, at dance rehearsals).

The thing is, I’m sure you could get footage of what we used to call real celebrities exhibiting the same kind of behavior. Kate Plus Eight tried to make that point, hauling in Inside Edition‘s Jim Moret to say that no one calls Angelina Jolie a bad mother when she goes off to make a movie, so why blame Kate?

Fair point. Jolie’s job earns her a paycheck for playing characters, whereas Kate earns hers being the same real person. But I’m glad I don’t have to watch Jolie sobbing in the back of a limo that this rehearsal thing is just too, too much, or see her at home yelling at a daughter to “Walk away!” when the kid calls a sibling a “cheater.” (That Mady, she’s in for a lifetime of psychoanalysis, I fear.)

I have sympathy for Kate’s predicament: She didn’t know what she was buying into when she started the original series, and now she seems too immersed in the messy thicket of celeb-reality to know when to stop, how to stop, or whether she can stop.

Kate Plus Eight was grim stuff, even when the kids looked so happy frolicking with dolphins. I hope you were watching Breaking Bad instead; fictional meth-heads are more entertaining than a real-life hair-extension-head mom.