There is good in 7th Heaven. Judge Diane Wild has felt it.
Our review of 7th Heaven: The Complete First Season, published November 10th, 2004, is also available.
You can relate…
7th Heaven's Camden family—the Reverend Eric, wife Annie, and their multitude of children—have been on the air for ten seasons now, weathering cast changes and a television landscape gone decidedly un-Camden. Which is exactly why there's a place for this series amidst the reproducing-like-bunnies CSIs and Law & Orders, and all those hip, cynical shows you wouldn't want your kids to watch but know they are. 7th Heaven is a true family series, with something to appeal to all ages—not to all people of those ages, mind you, but children, teens, and parents are equally targeted. It's not anywhere near my list of must-watch shows (in fact, it's magnetically repelled from my list of must-watch shows) but it hits a demographic who want kinder, gentler entertainment, and who deserve to get it.
Facts of the Case
The Reverend Eric Camden (Stephen Collins) and his wife Annie (Catherine Hicks) are raising five children—popular Matt (Barry Watson), sporty Mary (Jessica Biel), boy-crazy Lucy (Beverley Mitchell), brainy Simon (David Gallagher), and impish Ruthie (Mackenzie Rosman)—while helping various congregation members and townspeople with their problems, as well. Each episode generally deals with an issue; this second season, which aired on the WB in 1997-98, includes episodes touching on marijuana use, bulimia, homelessness, the Holocaust, and the inevitable ups and downs of relationships, whether teen or adult.
Predictably for a family melodrama, the Camdens weather all storms with humor and wisdom, and while 7th Heaven doesn't usually rely on pat answers, happy endings are guaranteed. Even though events such as Lucy dealing with her grief and guilt over a friend's death are taken care of within a single episode and never mentioned again, the show does try to add complexity to its stories within those limits.
One example is "Who Knew," where the family dog drops a marijuana joint at Eric's feet, and he goes on a mission to find out which of his kids brought it into the house. There's some humor to the episode, as he sees signs of pot use in all his kids, given their various munchies (always-ravenous Matt), sore eyes (allergic Mary), and behavior changes (Lucy trying to impress a boyfriend), and more humor in the girls' discovery of the same joint, leading them to believe their parents are smoking it. The set up also gives Eric the opportunity to lecture all his kids in age-appropriate ways about drug use, which tend towards the typical "drugs are bad—why would anyone do them?" This lack of subtlety is tempered by the revelation that wife Annie had experimented with pot before college, and she acts as the voice of experience. Of course, her casual, anti-establishment reasons for using pot were punished by the death of a friend under the influence, but this is a family show, and at least the moral of the episode has a bit more complexity to it than "just say no." Adding another layer, the issue here is not just drugs, it's trust. When Matt is implicated, not only are his parents upset, his younger siblings are devastated. But the parents aren't blameless, and their lack of trust is a failing here too. The resolution is contrived and unbelievable, but still affecting—not a simple thing to do.
That episode, like most others, conveys the essence of 7th Heaven: the idea that family is a moral responsibility. The parents, of course, must steer their flock toward the right choices in life, but the children are shown to have a high degree of responsibility towards their parents and siblings as well. For example, a drivers license for Matt means chauffeuring his younger siblings in exchange for the privilege, and his actions—such as the flirtation with drugs, or his decision to leave home to go to college—are shown to have a profound affect on the younger kids, causing him to re-evaluate with their interests in mind.
Mother and father inevitably know best, but they do make bad parenting decisions. Eric and Annie fight occasionally, but just as often make public displays of affection. They are seen in good moods and bad. The children get into trouble at least once an episode, but inevitably see the error of their ways and end up wanting to do the right thing. Eric's position as a minister puts pressures on his family to live up to an ideal, and he recognizes that, though the show doesn't emphasize religion so much as ethics. It tries to veer from black and white characterizations, too…though it tends towards the white with everyone. There are no real bad guys, but the good guys aren't always good. Eric is not always the paragon of virtue—he can be unreasonable and judgmental. Mary is dating a teen father who is portrayed as highly responsible, having learned from his past actions, and the Rastafarian wannabe Lucy starts to date of course ends up having a heart of gold.
The only "extras" on this set are a few commercials for soon-to-be released TV box sets. The picture quality is better than the syndicated broadcasts, with vibrant, natural colors but some grain, though the Dolby Digital 2.0 sound often reveals hissing and muffled dialogue.
Would I willingly sit through a full season of 7th Heaven on DVD? Um, wait a minute…I did. But in a non-DVD Verdict world (yes, it's frightening, but just imagine it for a second), the answer would be no. Still, I can see the appeal in this series for parents, teens, and children. It does what it intends to do very well—it entertains, affirms morality largely without preaching, and warms hearts.
Not guilty. In fact, very, very innocent.
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