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Television

How could parenting 17 kids be dull? Just watch.

The latest in a string of documentaries about the Duggar family in Arkansas follows them on a trip to New York City. The latest in a string of documentaries about the Duggar family in Arkansas follows them on a trip to New York City.
By Joanna Weiss
Globe Staff / September 29, 2008
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You may have heard of the Duggar family. They are Arkansan, religious, and incredibly fertile, with 17 kids whose names all begin with the letter "J."

Do they deserve to be TV stars? TLC clearly thinks so, having done well enough with a string of Duggar documentaries, including "14 Children and Pregnant Again!" and "On the Road With 16 Children!" Tonight at 10, the network launches its new series "17 Kids and Counting." (Yes, there's another one coming. Soon, they'll have to change the title, and perhaps add an exclamation point.)

This is well-trod ground for a network that has staked a claim on biological curiosity, particularly with "Jon & Kate Plus Eight," the popular show about a couple with twins and sextuplets. Unsurprisingly, "17 Kids and Counting" shares a lot with "Jon & Kate," particularly a central flaw: These people are truly, mind-numbingly dull.

A docu-reality series has to hinge on personality - think of Bravo's vibrant and occasionally vile reality stars, such as personal trainer Jackie Warner (of "Work Out") and various wealthy housewives. We cheer for the drama, the train wrecks real and averted, the chew-outs and meltdowns.

The Duggars, by contrast, have no discernable personality traits, other than an overwhelming piety. They make the even-keeled Jon and Kate look like the Honeymooners. Their kids, while admirably well-behaved, don't exactly have an edge. So in place of character and conflict, we get logistics. "Jon & Kate" episodes have centered on such conflicts as how to hang shelves in the garage while putting the kids down for a nap. Tonight's Duggar premiere centers on a family trip to New York, and how the family gets through the streets without losing anyone.

While we get a running count of suitcases carried and pizzas consumed, we glimpse little of the Duggars' inner psyche. If things are tough for them around bedtime, they never let on. And while we see them sing hymns in the family bus, their independent family website reveals far more about the depth of their Christianity. (It's deep.)

TLC spends more time, instead, gathering reactions from people who encounter the Duggars on the street. For the most part, the strangers have the same thing to say: Seventeen kids? Wow.

That about sums it up, but it doesn't require another minute of elaboration.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at weiss@globe.com.

17 Kids and Counting

On: TLC

Time: Premieres tonight at 10

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