In these days of the ubiquitous double- and triple-wide stroller, it takes more than a set of quadruplets to dazzle. Which brings us to Pennsylvania couple Jon and Kate Gosselin, who have 7-year-old twin girls and a pack of toddler sextuplets. But TLC’s docuseries Jon & Kate Plus 8 shouldn’t be watched merely for its cute factor — although there is something ridiculously sweet about watching a passel of bibbed 4-year-olds forking mouthfuls of pancakes. This show is so much more than adorable (and often isn’t adorable at all, depending on how many Gosselins are having meltdowns in a given episode). No, what makes J&K so fascinating are the challenges, which are beyond anything Survivor or The Amazing Race could dream up. The mere logistics of the Gosselin home life are baffling: Clothing, feeding, transporting, disciplining, and choreographing the movements of eight kids is a mission that would seem to require serious military training. Just watching the Gosselins ready themselves to endure an airport security line is exhausting — the snack packs of food, the backpacks of toys, the wrangling of 4-year-olds. The kids rarely play to the cameras — they’ve been around too long (and the Gosselins are such careful parents, I’m sure they have a strategy regarding Raising Children in a Docu Environment, which makes for guilt-free viewing).
J&K is as much about the parents as the kids: Jon and Kate are a funny, articulate, sometimes needling couple who play out a sitcom dynamic. He’s the amiable, occasionally clueless husband; she’s the exacting, exasperated wife. Oh, let’s face it, she’s a bit of a ball-buster. You can tell Kate was a former nurse — she has that crisp, don’t-screw-with-me vibe, and I say that with due affection. This is the woman you want on your lifeboat. Kate is an überorganized germaphobe who once nearly swooned when Jon said something had to be perfect. She often talks to Jon in a tone reserved for dazed kindergartners. The low-key Jon (so low-key he once, giggling and blushing, said, ”I don’t like the way emotions make me feel”) generally responds to Kate’s harangues by digging in more. Then they make up. The Gosselins do their interviews — and no small amount of couples therapy — in an overstuffed loveseat, and they tease each other as often as they argue. Kate has an easy, joyful guffaw, and Jon actually beams when he makes her laugh. In this day of scripted reality, to see a couple actually interact with each other in a way that seems genuine — unpleasantness included — is unbelievably refreshing. I’d rather watch Jon and Kate argue about cleaning the garage than sit through any episode of The Hills, ever. B+