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The Monitor: Jon & Kate & their crooked houses

June 23, 2009 |  9:16 am

But what will the kids say? No -- really, what will they say? As the relationship of Jon and Kate Gosselin has devolved into a frost worthy of an Edward Hopper painting, the lone bright spot of "Jon & Kate Plus 8" has been the children: 8-year-old twins Cara and Mady and the 5-year-old sextuplets, Aaden, Alexis, Collin, Hannah, Joel and Leah. The teaser bumps just before commercials invariably feature one or several of the kids saying, "Coming up next on 'Jon & Kate Plus 8!' " Especially during episodes when the Gosselins were rubbing each other raw, these three-second bits were moments of hope. Someone, at least, believed in the family's future.

So what's it going to be then? "Jon Plus 8" when he's with the kids and "Kate Plus 8" when he's not? Maybe "Jon Plus Two and Kate Plus Six"? "Once Were Gosselins"? Now that the Gosselins have formally initiated divorce proceedings, never again will the show's title trigger a sense of optimism and possibility, only a burden that was probably impossible all along. (Unless you're the Duggars, stars of another TLC megafamily docu-series, "18 Kids and Counting," in which case having children is merely an excuse for exponentially growing joy.)

Jon and Kate have regarded each other contemptuously for some time now, dating back long before they became tabloid chum. They sniped at each other, rolled their eyes, spoke ill of one another. In other words, they made for a refreshingly frank couple, too busy with their children to think too deeply about how to spiff up their love for America.

In Monday's most moving segment, the enormity of the future bore down on Kate hard. "I had half a day where I let myself fall apart and hyperventilate and sob harder than I've ever sobbed in my life," she said. "I don't really want to be alone. I don't want to do this alone."

"I was too passive," Jon insisted in explaining his need for a split. "I just let her rule the roost and do whatever she wanted to do and went along with everything and now I finally stood up on my own two feet and I'm proud of myself."

Not that "Jon & Kate Plus 8" was ever really a show about parents or parenting. And the custody-sharing arrangement that seems to have been hammered out through back channels demonstrates how true that dynamic is to life. On Monday night's episode, Jon and Kate explained that the children will remain full time in the home the Gosselins recently purchased in Pennsylvania, where Jon and Kate will alternate hands-on caretaking. (This seems to be an ingenious solution, only viable for a family that can afford, in essence, three homes, but ingenious just the same.)

After all, this is the house the children feel comfortable in, the one they can stretch out in,  the one that shields them from paparazzi. "The security, the room, the land," Jon said on Monday. "All for them."

As with so many recent episodes of "Jon & Kate," Monday's revolved around a product placement, and this time it was apt. Kids Crooked House builds structurally sound children's playhouses that appear whimsically distorted on the outside. That may be the converse of the Gosselin home, but to see Jon and Kate announce their split during an episode otherwise dedicated to the difficult labor of building safe homes for their kids was rich in irony.

Perhaps these Crooked Houses -- the kids received four -- will become refuges for the children from events in the main home, which despite the game faces Jon and Kate put on for their children has been plenty crooked for a while. "I'm tired of smiling on the outside when I'm crying on the inside," Kate said. "I've been doing that for a long time." And you're never too old -- or too young -- to learn that the things that appear weakest on the outside may well turn out to be the most solid. That understanding and more, coming up next on "Jon, Kate, 8."

-- Jon Caramanica

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