Tuned In

The Morning After: Eight Is Too Much

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This is not something a good TV critic likes to admit, but I made liberal use of the fast-forward button watching last night’s special Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage. I have an excuse, in that I had a Top Chef writeup to do, but also enough of the show was devoted to Suleman’s unhinged 911 calls that I could blessedly speed through and read the captions.

This creepy, dispiriting special was the perfect show to watch on DVR, actually. If you recorded it, you may want to zip through and simply watch the commercials.

If there was any hope that the show, mainly using access Nadya Suleman granted to Radar Online, would show her as a misunderstood, sympathetic figure, it quickly vanished. Pitiable, yes. In need of help, probably. But sympathetic, no. I don’t want to join in the pile-on of judgment on her decision to bear eight in vitro children on top of the six she already implanted had as a single mom—at this point the judgment pretty much takes care of itself, and Fox’s special only added to the evidence. But whether touring the cameras around her house or berating her mother, she only came across self-deluded, rationalizing her choices, driven by some childhood-compensation needs and a vague, unsubstantiated faith in the future, that something—fame? her undefined career plans?—would make everything all right in the end.

Suleman seems to know at some level that she’s messed up–her life and possibly her kids’–but she kept returning to the theme that there was no point in dwelling on it. “I can’t regret it now, because I love them,” she said. “They’re here.” And: “I’ve moved past my [makes air quotes] ‘mistake.’ … I’m just going to keep moving forward.” The kids are a fait accompli. No point playing the blame game. Actually, this seems to be one case where the blame game is worth playing, if only for the sake of the 14 kids drifitng in and out of the frame—if accepting blame, or anything, could shock Suleman out of her self-deceptive haze.

I do have to give the special credit for being upfront about how ghastly and exploitative the filming (and thus the watching) of Suleman’s experience was. The entire two hours hyped the climactic Never! Before Seen footage, arranged by Suleman, of her delivering the octuplets in the hospital. The raw video unreeled interminably, as the nurses announced each baby’s arrival—”Baby A,” “Baby B,” all the way through “Baby H”—and the camerawoman argued testily with the medical personnel trying to shoo her out of the room.

It was the beginning of life as the bloody assembly line for media product, the eight babies being handed off one by one in an ugly and hostile spectacle. This isn’t how anybody should have to come into the world, or live in it. For the sake of Babies A through H, and their six siblings, let’s hope this is the end of the incredible unseen footage.