This Kat(i)e is happy not to be that Kate.
8x the laughter. 8x the drama. 8x the love.
I was never on the band wagon. The snatches of Jon & Kate Plus Eight I caught on television—screaming kids, snarling mom, hen-pecked husband, and banal everyday activities—turned me off. But after sitting down to watch the whole of season three, this real-as-they-get reality show got under my skin. In a good way, I guess.
Facts of the Case
Jon and Kate Gosselin are a fertility nightmare turned into, more or less, one large, happy family. After having twin girls through science, the couple decided to try, as they put it, "for just one more and ended up with six." In Season Three of their hit TLC television series the twins (Mady and Cara) are seven, and the sextuplets (Alexis, Aaden, Collin, Leah, Hannah, and Joel) are three. The whirlwind household travels to Utah for a ski vacation, watches Jon get hairplugs, and the parents spend a "special day" with each, individual child…amongst other daily, and yes banal, activities.
I write above that this is a "real-as-they-get reality show" for several reasons. One: the setting is not glamorous. This isn't The Hills. In The Hills, if you took out all the pretty people and all of their (scripted?) dialogue, the setting and cinematography would still be enticing. The soundtrack alone might keep your interest. But with Jon and Kate Plus Ei8ht the location is suburban Pennsylvania, the soundtrack is screaming kids (the screams sometimes admittedly spliced together to demonstrated the kids' range and frequency), and the center stage is the Gosselins' Pottery-Barn-free, hum-drum, over-burdened house.
Two: Jon & Kate and their kids are real. Yes, they receive perks along the lines of other semi-celebrities: free trips to Utah to go skiing, free hair transplant treatments, invitations to see Oprah. If they had a mindful handler, or agent, they might have been advised to skip the freebies less they be judged as money grubbers. But like most real people, overburdened and exhausted, the family just said yes to the handouts. And at least in Season Three the parents are mindful of and thankful for these indulgences. And then they go clean up the vomit of six kids with the flu. Or deal with washing grass stains out of six little pairs of pants. Real. Real. Real.
There are other indications that this is a real, more or less unscripted show. Jon & Kate do not hold hands and skip. Ever. They rib each other and get exasperated with each other. They both probably have many shining moments caught on tape for the world to see that they are not proud of. Plus, how can you script 6 three-year olds? Impossible.
Granted, the episodes are likely carefully planned and edited. In fact the editing is the shining star of the TLC's crew's efforts. The film room must be overflowing with hours of crying children, makeup-less stars, and days of nothingness. The interview tactic where Jon & Kate, and occasionally some of the kids, are squired away to overstuffed chairs to rehash the day's (episode's) events breaks up the chaos of the day-to-day wrangling of kids and offers a flow to the series. It is in the interview chairs where Jon & Kate really shine. They are philosophical about their kids sometimes and brutally honest at other times. They seem to genuinely love each other when sequestered from their screaming kids, even if Kate hits Jon a lot, and even if she corrects his speech a lot, and even if he rolls his eyes and shrinks in his chair a lot. All-in-all they really seem like they are simply "doing the best they can do" with their large family. And that's not only endearing, but realistic.
Certainly, there are moments when the reality schtick goes out the window. On the first of the four Season Three DVDs, there are several episodes featuring gratuitous Juicy Juice product placements. There is no reason why the camera lingered so long on one bottle of apple juice, unless it was a paid placement. In Episode Eight, "Family Photo Shoot," the TLC crew gets fancy showcasing the photos together in a montage at the conclusion of the show. And about halfway through the season the graphics team gets in gear, swapping the plain white (almost unreadable when placed over a busy background) episode titles for more colorful ones and embedding cute graphics into scenes, such as the colorful counter while one of the sextuplets inhales contraband candy.
Like most television series DVDs, this set didn't edit out the recurring intros which I think is a big waste of time (maybe one whole DVD could have been axed), and is also annoying. There are a limited number of special features, but the included ones, namely "Behind-the-Scenes of Jon & Kate Plus Eight" and "Viewer FAQ" are pretty interesting. People would probably buy a whole DVD based on these two concepts. There's also a Music Video, "Hug & a Kiss."
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Where'd the nanny go? Episode Four was "Kate Hires a Nanny," and after a semi-exhaustive search Kate finds the perfect person who never appears in another episode. There is an occasional vague reference to her, but I never saw her again, and instead an array of family and friends parade through the house to babysit.
Also, it was completely unnecessary to devote six(!) episodes to the kids' special days. We all know they're special; one episode would have sufficed.
Ah, the screaming. And the bickering. Sometimes I just couldn't take it. I would have been okay with a little less reality.
After watching the entire Season Three, I admit I went to my computer and did a little background research and read some of the internet musings about the family. I could say it was for this review, but it wasn't. I was curious and interested and feeling just a little unfulfilled as a voyeur. So now I guess I'm on the band wagon. If the series' goal is to hook you into this family's life, it succeeded.
Guilty x 3.
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Scales of Justice
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