Last night I decided to check in on TLC‘s latest Quiverfull clan on United Bates of America, only to find them virtually unchanged from when I’d first recapped their show weeks ago. Gil and Kelly Jo still make awkward asides and don’t seem to rule their family with the same iron fist that you see from Jim Bob Duggar. The kids still have bad hair, but at least their names start with different letters. And really, nothing happened on last night’s episodes. Like, some of the girls threw Alyssa an 18th birthday that surprised her because in a family that big she wasn’t expecting extra attention… and the Bates built a chicken coop… and the older kids went whitewater rafting… but really, nothing happened.
This family just isn’t compelling to watch. Despite having as many kids as the Duggars, they’re more awkward than crazy. And while they’re puttering around doing little errands, there’s no arc to their story. It’s not like with the Duggars last season, when every episode was painfully calibrated to remind us that Michelle had miscarried baby Jubilee. You get the impression that TLC’s producers and editors simply don’t care enough about the Bates to construct any kind of real story around this family.
And when they had their one big chance to make an interesting episode, they wasted it! I’m talking, of course, about the potential cross-pollination between the Bates family and their friends the Paines. Just as we met the Bates on 19 Kids and Counting, last night’s episode of United Bates of America made it seem like they were passing the torch to their buddies the Paine family. (Though they only have 12 kids, tsk tsk.) Literally the last four minutes of the episode were devoted to what the Bates and Paine parents do when they notice their children “developing an interest in each other.”
My ears perked up, but really there was only enough time for Kelly Jo to ramble awkwardly about attraction before we cut to the credits. So, here’s the best part of the episode:
“Several of our children, just because of their ages, have naturally had interests in people of the opposite genders, and they have gotten to know different people and become friends with some and some might have, be in a stage where they’re pursuing, you know, farther.
“Courtship is a process of, I’m thinking this is a person I would like to marry, but in that process you’re trying to learn more about that person, their goals, their family, their life, and you’re learning more about each other.”
OK, that was kind of fun seeing Kelly Jo stumble over an explanation of hormones and flirting. Now, it’s not as if the Bates are the first reality-TV family to show us the awkward stages of courtship; let’s not forget Josh and Anna Duggar‘s first kiss at the altar! But it just cracked me up how Kelly Jo couldn’t even use normal words.
No surprise, the kids have drunk the Kool-Aid, too. Second-oldest daughter Erin was able to give a more concrete explanation of the process:
“We do notice other people, we have attractions to other people, but the difference is we go to our parents and say, ‘Can you pray with me? I noticed an attraction to this person.’ And he’s like, ‘Sure, that’s totally normal,’ and we’ll get together, but it’s more as a family and do that as a group instead of one-on-one.”
I know that it’s perfectly natural for kids to talk to their parents about crushes, but the mental image of these girls going to Gil over boys that give them butterflies, just gives me the heebie-jeebies.
I really can’t believe that TLC saved this treat for the very end and didn’t instead devote an entire episode to watching the Paine boys awkwardly flirt with the Bates girls. That’s reality-TV gold! But that’s probably also why this show flounders. You know what else they need, as we’ve learned from Here Comes Honey Boo Boo? 1) Nicknames, and 2) .gifs.
Photo: The Paine Family