We pitted our streetwise and scrappy Judge Diane Wild against this goody two shoes WB melodrama. Against all odds, the show won.
Our review of 7th Heaven: The Complete Second Season, published June 1st, 2005, is also available.
You can relate…
That's the tagline for the series, but the truth is, you probably can't relate to the Camdens. You might wish these were your relatives, but there are few examples of such a non-dysfunctional family in real life or on TV (so much so that you probably would have had to read that sentence twice if I'd written "a functional family"—it's just not a phrase that computes.) Still, 7th Heaven is a rare example of true family television. Wholesome storylines and likeable characters offer a little something for all ages.
Facts of the Case
The Camdens are one of those fantasy TV families where the kids talk to their parents about everything, or learn a valuable lesson if they don't. The siblings always get into some kind of scrape or moral dilemma, and there are a lot of siblings to choose from. In descending order of age, there's Matt (Barry Watson), the hunky but irresponsible brother; Mary (Jessica Biel), the basketball star; Lucy (Beverley Mitchell), the boy-crazy one; Simon (David Gallagher), the charming schemer; and Ruthie (Mackenzie Rosman), the adorable munchkin. But parents Eric (Stephen Collins) and Annie Camden (Catherine Hicks) always find a way to help the situation by the end of the hour. Count 'em up: that's five kids and two adults. Dad's a minister. 7th Heaven. Get it?
7th Heaven has all the ingredients of a show I should hate. Sappy storylines. Unrealistically good characters. The equation of religion with morality. And yet…there's something unhateable about it. The characters may be good, but they are flawed. The stories may have pat endings, but they are not quite trite.
The episodes in Season One, which originally aired in 1996-97, deal with Annie's mother's leukemia diagnosis and eventual death, teen pregnancy, racism, drugs, gossip, alcoholism—you name the issue, and 7th Heaven has probably tackled it. The sunny resolutions can be unsatisfying, unless you choose to take comfort that, at least on family television, these things always turn out just fine.
Brought to the WB by Aaron Spelling (Melrose Place, Beverly Hills 90210) and Brenda Hampton (Blossom), 7th Heaven is basically a kiddie-teen soap opera with enough adult plotline thrown in to make it watchable for all ages. But you might need the kids around to give you the motivation to watch.
Younger Simon and Ruthie are generally involved in plots that help them learn right from wrong. The older children are Tiger Beat-cute—Barry Watson is the male heartthrob, and Jessica Biel the female eye candy. Though she would become a sex symbol on magazine covers and later movies such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)), in the series pilot she is an awkward and fresh-faced 14-year-old who yearns for her first kiss. Along with middle child Lucy, they are faced with the ups and downs of adolescent relationships—guided by Mom and Dad, of course.
The parental Camdens are still very much in love and prone to public displays of affection, but they face their own adult problems. In a world where good marriages are not often on display, 7th Heaven doesn't care if younger viewers cringe at the kissy-facing of the Camdens—they are modeling a loving, trusting relationship that sets an example. 7th Heaven is very big on setting examples. Not that that's a bad thing.
Though Eric Camden is a minister in a Protestant church, the series succeeds in coming across as nondenominational. The characters are guided by faith, but the common theme is acceptance, not exclusion or judgment.
The DVD is presented in the original 1.33:1 ratio, and exhibits a solid transfer with no image issues. The 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo surround mix is unremarkable but does the trick; dialogue is clear. A French Dolby Digital 2.0 track is included for all but one episode. There are no extras.
7th Heaven is an ideal addition to a family DVD collection, but most adults will want a little more bite to their drama.
Maybe it's a higher power making me say it, but…not guilty. However, Paramount will face a final judgment for the lackluster DVD presentation.
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