TLC must really be running out of steam with 19 Kids and Counting episodes revolving around the actual family that inspired the show, because last night’s first episode focused on Josh and Anna Duggar celebrating their son Michael‘s first birthday. Usually I find the Duggars 2.0 pretty insufferable, but lo and behold, someone forgot to give Anna her drugs, because she was clear-eyed and experiencing actual human emotions beyond baby fever.
The plot itself was pretty laughable: Josh and Anna were hosting the party, whose guests included his family and a bunch of their friends, so it was gonna cost a pretty penny and take some time to set up. While Josh put some Hebrew National hot dogs on the grill, Anna tackled the prospect of Michael’s birthday cake.
Oh, before all that there was a great side moment where Josh asks his three-year-old daughter Mackynzie if she can pick up Michael’s carrier. Looks like someone is following Michelle Duggar‘s method of having the older kids take care of the younger ones! “It’s too heavy,” Mackynzie protests, but Josh doesn’t seem to believe her even though the carrier is as tall as she is. “I can rock him,” she says, but that’s about it. These people…
OK, back to the cake. It’s astonishing how much Anna spent on cake mix, since she and Josh follow Jim Bob and Michelle’s edict of living frugally, buying clothes at Salvation Army, etc. As one of the commenters on Free Jinger pointed out, she could’ve saved more money by baking from scratch. Then again, this episode taught us that Anna is not a skilled baker. There’s no shame! I have maybe two friends who’ve mastered that realm of cooking, whereas the rest of us resort to buying from the store. (More on that in a sec.)
While at the grocery store, Michael gets a hold of one of the eggs — insert joke about Anna’s eggs? — and ended up making a small mess. One of the cashiers called out “Cleanup on aisle 5″ over the loudspeaker probably just because the TLC camera men made him, because Anna ended up taking care of it. But what shocked me was that she actually looked embarrassed and sheepish at what she called an “awkward” moment. This is huge when what we usually get is scarily glazed eyes and a vacant smile. Like the classic photo of her and Michelle both pregnant, above.
Then later, during the six hours (!) it took to bake the cake, Anna also made Rice Krispie Treat blocks to put on top. She had some high-concept idea about a building-block cake, but it’s quickly clear that nothing is going according to plan. There’s a part where one of the boys steals some blocks and stacks them all together—the look on Anna’s face is priceless. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t have Josh nearby and can actually crack a smile for the cameras.
To her credit, she handles the stresses of baking very well. Especially after her idea to merge a chocolate cake with a vanilla one ends in a crumbly, gooey mess, and they have to bring in her friend Sierra, “the Cake Doctor.” Sierra immediately gets to work shaving down the cakes, readjusting the layers, and whipping up a new batch of frosting. But then, suspiciously, the women kick the camera men out of the kitchen, saying they want it to be a surprise.
This is the best photo of the cake I could find:
It is not the same cake that Anna was baking. First off — thanks again to Free Jinger for noticing this — the inside of the final cake is rainbow layers, whereas Anna’s was half-chocolate, half-vanilla. Also, it’s covered in fondant, whereas we saw Sierra prepping store-bought icing. I don’t know why the Duggars felt the need to fake it for us, but we won’t be taken for a ride. That said, I will let it go because it means that we got to see Anna actually like a human. No creepy confessionals about wanting more children—she was just enjoying the company of the kids she already has, and actually responding to what happened around her, good and bad.
Of course, there seems to be this ever-present cosmic balance where if one member of the Duggar clan is starting to act like a human, rebellion must be squashed elsewhere. In the second episode, it was Jill‘s 21st birthday, so her parents took her out to lunch. (Am I the only one who thinks it would’ve been more special for them to do dinner?) ”A lot of ladies may hit the town,” she reflected later in the confessional. “They may think freedom is the first thing on your 21st birthday, but I enjoy spending time with my parents.” OK, that’s sweet, but it also makes me worried that the Duggars have managed to emotionally stunt yet another daughter. Jana seems to be a lost cause, but Jill had promise!
Like the fact that she got a speeding ticket! I was so excited to hear her tell her parents about that… but they were totally cool with it. Mostly because she was speeding to get to a birth, as she’s training to become a midwife. ”I hope I can accomplish more for the Lord in the next 21 years as I have in the past 21 years,” she says.
But then the weirdest part is how she suddenly brings up marriage. I’m sure it wasn’t so sudden and she was prompted to, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of her answer: ”I don’t mind being single right now, but hopefully in the Lord’s timing I can be… I don’t know if I’m ready or I’m not, but that’s OK, too.” She seems to be taking a lot of power away from herself. Maybe she should go visit her sister-in-law Anna for a few days.
Photos: Scott Enlow/TLC, Duggars Blog