The Gosselins, a family torn by reality TV, return to our screens


The Gosselins, back in the old days. (Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Discovery)

It’s been awhile since the Gosselins — the infamous Kate and Jon, plus their twins and sextuplets — were on TV. Wondering how they were doing? No? TLC wants to inform you anyway.

Their reality series ended in 2011, but the network aired a special one-hour episode of “Kate Plus 8″ Thursday night, updating us on the lives of the family.

“We’re baaack!” screamed the heartbreakingly cute sextuplets (Alexis, Hannah, Leah, Joel, Aaden, Collin), perched together on a couch at the beginning of the episode.

Yes, they are back, but only temporarily — thankfully, for everyone’s sake. It seems like just yesterday that the show “Jon and Kate Plus 8″ chronicled the everyday Pennsylvania family in its daily lives with lots of kids. Then TLC continued to follow the events as Kate and Jon battled it out in a truly nasty split that played out across the tabloids. In a June 2009 episode,  the couple announced they were getting a divorce; more than 11 million people tuned in, making it the most-watched telecast in basic-cable history at the time.

The refrains from the viewing public were all the same (“What about the CHILDREN?”). but that didn’t stop the cameras from rolling, or the drama from continuing. There were many legal issues: TLC and Jon sued each other, before settling in 2010. Kate got a spinoff “Kate Plus 8,” which started as a series of specials and then got two seasons, wrapping in 2011. Then the Gosselins disappeared from the scene for a while.

Given that history, perhaps we can all appreciate how disappointing it is to see the Gosselin kids forced back in front of the camera for this new special. The peg is that it’s the sextuplets’ 10th birthday party. (The special is a two-parter; the conclusion airs next Thursday.)

If you missed it, the show remains about the same — and no, Jon doesn’t appear anywhere, except in a few flashback photos. Anyway, the sextuplets are adorable, and the twins, Mady and Cara, prefer to be off on their own, as Kate rules the house with an iron fist.

It’s spring break for the Gosselins in this special, so it’s up to Kate to find activities: Going to a sports park, taking all the kids around for glasses shopping, planning the sextuplets’ party. The twins, teenagers now, gripe a lot. The family now has a pet bird. There are lots of flashbacks to the old days. And a few kid meltdowns in the present day.

“A lot has changed since you last have been here,” Kate says to the producer during an on-camera interview. “I think we’ve all grown up. We’ve all been through a lot. We’ve learned what’s important. We’ve grown together as a family. We’ve struggled privately, we’ve struggled publicly.”

Very much publicly. Jon and Kate insisted back in the day that the kids loved the camera crew, but it never seemed very healthy for children to have their entire lives captured on camera, especially while their parents were in a process of a bitter divorce.

We can hope that TLC and the Gosselins will part ways for good after this special, though that’s not likely — people are still fascinated by the family. But for a peek into what effects this continued on-camera lifestyle could bring, you need look no further than the wildly uncomfortable interview that Kate and the 13-year-old twins did on the “Today” show a few months ago.

Promoting a People magazine cover story about misconceptions surrounding their family (“People expect us to be damaged. …We’re not messed up,” the twins say in the article), the interview backfired in the most awkward way possible.

“Mady, what would you want to say about [what] you and your sister and your family are doing?” co-host Savannah Guthrie asked.

Mady remained silent. “Mady, your words. Spit it out,” Kate commanded.

Mady didn’t say a word. “What about you, Cara?” Guthrie urged.

Still, nothing. The increasingly unnerving interview went on like that until it was thankfully over, with Kate clearly furious. As you can imagine, Jon Gosselin had a field day with that when gossip sites asked him for his reaction.

In the episode Thursday, the twins submit to some sullen and occasionally giggly on-camera interviews. “You kind of, like, intruded on my whole life plan when I was 3 1/2,” Mady complains at one point.

Although she’s talking about suddenly having six little brothers and sisters, it’s also the truth about her family’s situation. Most kids don’t ask to be followed around by cameras. And for this reason, it seems as though it’s time for the Gosselins to say goodbye — this time for good.

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Emily Yahr is an entertainment reporter and pop culture blogger for the Style section. She joined the Post in May 2008, a week before she graduated from the University of Maryland, and worked on Lisa de Moraes' TV Column and blog.
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