Update: We’ve decided that, if TLC is gonna exploit Michelle’s miscarriage for ratings, then we’ll track its dramatic arc from episode to episode: Starting with the February 21 ep “Josh & Anna Check-In.”
Halfway through the season 9 premiere of 19 Kids and Counting on TLC last night, it became painfully clear what will be the show’s focus this season: Michelle Duggar‘s miscarriage of 20th child Jubilee Shalom Duggar. And already I’m seeing shades of how Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills handled the unexpected suicide of star Russell Armstrong—namely, uncomfortable foreshadowing of an event we all know the gory details of, and cameras hovering over every private moment.
Knowing where we’re going to end up, and reflecting on all of the attention that Jubilee’s funeral got in the media, you have to ask why the Duggars would put themselves through this pain twice. And furthermore, why would they consent to having TLC turn this into a highly-dramatized story? Why not grieve in private instead of folding this tragedy into their brand?
Already the editors have sketched out a dramatic arc that begins with Jim Bob Duggar telling the cameras how excited he and the kids are for the new baby. Then there’s Michelle Duggar, who’s been making an effort to eat better and work out even before she found out she was pregnant again. (At the time of the premiere, she’s at 12 weeks.) That in itself is hard enough to watch, because it’s clear that Michelle is acting in response to her daughter Josie being born premature. However, rather than respond to the media’s criticisms and take the time to take care of underdeveloped Josie, Michelle is already looking ahead to the next inhabitant of her womb.
There’s a funny moment in the confessional where Jim Bob and Michelle reflect on her carrying their 20th child, and she says something about how it’s such a surprise to be expecting again. Really? I wondered. Isn’t it a sad inevitability by now? I will give them points for joking about the pregnancy:
Jim Bob: “Forty-six…”
Michelle: “…and still going strong!”
But even this levity is difficult to watch knowing that not long after, Michelle will lose the baby. In the first episode, Jim Bob and Michelle visit the doctor for a check-up and their first look at the heartbeat. I was convinced that they were just going to jump right in to the miscarriage in the first episode, but what the producers did was worse: They stretched out the suspense of not being able to find the baby’s heartbeat at first, in a knowing wink to all the fans who’ve already memorized the details of Jubilee’s fate. To have to watch Michelle’s expectant, nervous face was torture.
Then they went to commercial.