By now, despite their many failings in this sector, TLC has chosen to continue dominating the “weird American families” corner of the television landscape. Their newest show of this type, Rattled, purports to follow four sets of parents as they grapple with the experience of having newborns. What it actually does is serve as a classy vessel in which to hold the story of the “Gardner Quad Squad.”
The premiere of Rattled aired Tuesday night, introducing three of the four families the show will follow: Doug and Marsadie, Jason and Kristina, and the aforementioned Gardners. Doug and Marsadie seem like they’re supposed to appear the most dramatic; he has three kids with his ex-wife, all of whom live in another state, and Marsadie is 13 years younger than he is. (In his interviews, Doug sports a shirt with a stick figure man and stick figure pregnant woman that reads “Screwed.”) Jason and Kristina, on the other hand, are described as a “Type A” couple who are trying to micromanage everything about having a new kid.
Doug and Marsadie’s slightly unorthodox pairing quickly becomes old news, however, when their baby is born suddenly. Marsadie is rushed to the hospital (for having had three kids, Doug seems woefully unprepared for what to do when his partner goes into labor at home) and they soon grow frustrated with the hospital’s handling of Marsadie’s struggle with breastfeeding and their daughter’s jaundice. Jason and Kristina’s story has yet to bear dramatic fruit, though you sense from promos that their very organized feeding and sleeping schedules will go haywire soon, and that Kristina will struggle with going from working to taking care of a baby full time. (A third couple, Sal and Destiny, will be introduced next week.)
But it’s Ashley and Tyson who are the clear stars of Rattled. After struggling with infertility for years, the couple ended up finding out they were pregnant with two sets of identical twins, which is “a one in 70 million chance.” In the episode, the couple describes their posting about their pregnancy going viral on Facebook, prompting strangers from all over the world to send them stuff shortly after. The vibe they give off is that they weren’t expecting any of this, but now that they have it, they’ll happily turn it into their way of living.
The Gardners are quite obviously the biggest draw of Rattled, and they seem to fit right in with the rest of TLC’s Duggars and Gosselins and Sister Wives. “We’ve been able to talk about our family and our faith in God,” Tyson wrote in a blog post on their website. “People see our story and ask how we made it? Why we didn’t give up? How we are still in love? Why are we so positive? These questions can only be answered by discussing further our family support, and our faith in our Heavenly Father.”
The cynical might say this is TLC’s way of appearing classy (the show was executive produced by Drew Barrymore), putting the Gardners in the middle of a group of other families with more normal stories, a kind of updated version of their now cancelled gentler series A Baby Story. The even more cynical might say TLC should have just been upfront about the whole thing and given them their own show. The most cynical yet could point out that in a world post the proliferation of IVF and social media, people making money off their unique (and not so unique) families are a dime a dozen.
Well, there’s always the option of a Gardner-only spin-off.
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