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I am a 31-year-old male—not exactly the demographic for the network of What Not to Wear and Say Yes to the Dress. But I am fascinated by TLC's Jon & Kate Plus Eight (Mondays, 9/8c, 4 stars).

Thanks to infertility treatments, Jon and Kate Gosselin have 8-year-old twins and 4-year-old sextuplets. The parents are quirky, the kids adorable. What keeps me watching is awe at how this family circus operates. These are not the staged scenarios so typical of reality TV (try scripting six 4-year-olds). This is Christmas shopping, picnicking, and traveling. It's real enough to relate to, but extreme enough to make it a spectator sport.

It is said that you can tell who a person really is by observing them on a bad day—well, this show is an open window into Jon and Kate. The stress, craziness, and exhaustion take a toll; they often bicker and snap at one another. Kate's strong personality is the center of debate among viewers: for some, she's a domineering witch, to others, a take-charge former nurse who gets things done.

Jon blogged that it's hard to watch episodes where "we are too harsh to each other or the kids or we don't react as we should. [But it's] a reality show—you get the good, the bad, and the ugly. Many people have been helped by our honesty, so are we sorry that certain things are aired? Never."

What comes through is a portrait of parents who love their kids—and each other. You see it when they playfully tease one another during interviews. These debriefing sessions are not just narration, but provide moments when this time-starved couple can process what has been happening with their family.

The Gosselins attend an Assemblies of God church, and their first priority in their family mission statement ...

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November 2008

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