Last night, as I was casting about for a spot of distraction, I ran across a TV Guide channel special that had devoted an entire hour to the question, "Jon and Kate: Is It Too Late?" (Answer: Probably.) Even if you would rather punch holes in your eyelids than watch the ubiquitous "Jon & Kate: Plus 8" -- which Time magazine's James Poniewozik so brilliantly dubbed "The Hills for old people" -- it has been downright impossible not to be drawn into their ugly drama these days, a drama of alleged affairs and distress and questionable parenting -- and it is even harder not to feel for eight children riding out their parents' turbulence while cameras swoop in for close-ups. And yet, queasy as I feel about the whole matter, even I set my TiVo to record tonight's episode on TLC, which has been endlessly flogged as the most! shocking! evah! "We've made some life-changing decisions," read the announcement that broke on Thursday. Hey, maybe they got a great deal on car insurance. Maybe they're having more kids! But the safe money is on a divorce.
And divorce is in the air these days. Over the weekend, news broke that Bradley Whitford (congenial Josh Lyman from "The West Wing") and his wife of nearly 17 years, Jane Kaczmarek (the hilarious mother from "Malcolm in the Middle"), were calling it quits. And while celebrity rifts are about as remarkable as celebrity rehabs, there was something particularly poignant about Whitford and Kaczmarek's announcement. In the plastic parade that is Hollywood, they always seemed sane and likable and human, seeking out the privacy that the Gosselins so gleefully flout.
Add to this last week's bombshell from Sandra Tsing Loh -- in which the beloved author not only announces her split from her husband of 20 years but then also, frustratingly, suggests the rest of us avoid marriage altogether -- and a Sunday New York Times book review from Katie Roiphe about a new Christina Nehring book that slags our cozy ideal of marriage in favor of crashing, stormy romance (while Roiphe mentions that she is pregnant and currently has no intention to get married) and you have an anti-marriage pile-on that is both fascinating and depressing. One friend e-mailed on Sunday to say that the whole thing made her "1) want to promise never to get married but rather commit to living the Susan Sarandon-Tim Robbins life, and 2) Throw a ginormous wedding with a big finger thrust at all these people trying to tell me that just because it didn't work for them means it can't work for anyone."
As for Jon and Kate Gosselin, we'll find out tonight if television's most talked-about married couple will soon become the most talked-about divorced couple. It's funny to think about all those years people complained about sitcom families being too saccharine and rosy; now, a water-cooler television event could come with court papers.