7th Heaven: Season Eight
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7th Heaven: Season Eight

There are a lot of people out there who are fast to deride family programming on television. It is called boring and overly preachy in nature. While there is a trend for extreme, cutting edge programming especially on premium cable networks, there is a place for a kinder, gentler type of show. It has not been proven that sex and violence on TV has a deleterious effect on children but there is no harm in watching a show together as a family. If that show is both entertaining and provides positive role models and a message containing solid values than that is something that should be lauded. In 1996 a show like this came to the broadcast television landscape and many parents have been thankful for it. The show was ‘7th Heaven’ and it must have touched the audience in a positive way since it lasted an amazing eleven years; extremely long lasting by almost any standards. This series had another reason that seemed to draw people to it; a strong sense of spirituality. Many shows on television have had God infused in the plot like ‘Highway to Heaven’, Touched by an Angel’ and ‘Joan of Arcadia’ but none have employed a spiritual quite like this one. The father of the rather large brood of children was a pastor at a local non denominational church. Their religious beliefs were always present but the writers never forced the issue. It was presented as just the way this family functioned. This is a look at what is commonly called Middle America. It shows a family that has had more than their share of problems but their unwavering love for each other and they unshakable faith always manages to get them though the roughest of time. We live in a world beset with violence, an uncertain economy and difficult relationships. It is reassuring that a program like this existed and is now being released on DVD one season at a time by CBS Paramount. They are currently up to season eight and it is something that every family should own and watch together. There are no miracles here, God doesn’t directly intervene but is present in the way the characters relate to each other and the community. The family may be more functional than most but after so many years of ‘realistic’ dysfunctional families on TV it is nice to believe at least for a little while that there are people like this as our neighbors.

The series was created by Brenda Hampton working under the most successful television producer in history, Aaron Spelling. Many of Mr. Spelling’s shows were in the format of prime time soap operas with plenty of under aged sex and drinking but in this case he demonstrated a concern to provide a different type of show for the entire family. It takes a special brand of talent to craft a series that manages to address current topics that are plaguing our society and do so with such a positive attitude. Over the years this series has addressed teen pregnancy, global women’s rights, drug abuse and homelessness. This called for some heavily dramatic moments along the way but there was always time for some youthful high jinx to offer a change of pace. Hampton is quite adept at constructing story lines that entertain and inform at the same time. There are story arcs that run through the entire series, some that are treated as season arcs and then the main theme for individual episodes. Each season builds upon those that came before giving the long time fan a sense of knowing this family.

At the head of the family is Eric Camden (Stephen Collins) who is the minister at the Glen Oaks Community Church. Is steadfast wife Annie (Catherine Hicks) has given him seven children but still finds time to mange the most hectic household imaginable and help out with community projects. Their eldest two children are grown and live away from the family home but there are still enough around to provide a constant source of mayhem. Lucy (Beverley Mitchell) is following in her father’s footsteps as a pastor in training and is now married to Kevin Kinkirk (George Stults). They are not far from home as they live in the apartment over the garage. Simon (David Gallagher) is attending college and in the start of this season accidentally kills a young man with his car. This brings the normally level headed Simon to a personal crisis. Ruth (Mackenzie Rosman) is now in the midst of those turbulent teen years and as discovered boys much to the chagrin of her parents. He youngest members of the family are the twins David and Sam (Lorenzo and Nikolas Brino) who are mostly used for a little comic relieve and general mischief.

In this household there is always room for a few more young people around who seem to gravitate to the Camdens. Cecilia Smith (Ashlee Simpson) is Simon’s girlfriend but the relationship is not an easy one. At one point they break up because Simon had sex with another girl but they still seem to be on again, off again for most of the season. Cecilia has a soft touch for the twins and frequently baby-sits them which at one point becomes a sore point for Annie. It does seem that getting away from the Camden family is more difficult than leaving the Sopranos. The oldest of the family, Matt (Barry Watson) returns home to tell his parents that he is having problems with his marriage and is considering dropping out of medical school. He turns to Eric and his father in law Rabbi Glass (Richard Lewis) for help getting back on track. That particular episode had a lot of martial woes for the siblings when Kevin’s ex-wife Mindy (Mindy Burbano) shows up and Kevin is afraid to tell his very jealous wife about her.

A major part of the charm of this series was the way major topical themes where handled. Ruthie befriends a new girl to the neighborhood, Jill Dupree (Randa Sabbahv) who happens to be Muslim. This brings out a strong streak of prejudice in the neighborhood that Ruthie and the rest of the Camdens have to contend with. Lucy also becomes involved with Habitat for America using the building skills that she learned from her mother. Topics like this are always tastefully infused in the story adding drama but never becoming overly controversial or didactic. The Camdens are also picking up the stray child or two to live with them at any given time. In this season they wind up with Martin Brewer (Tyler Hoechlin). He is a gifted baseball player and has to decide whether to go straight into the game or attend college. He also becomes the sounding board for Cecilia during a few of her rough patches with Simon.

This is one of the best series of its kind and is able to endure through time. With its strong sense of family and faith it became a hit largely because of the way it showed a modern family getting through a myriad of problems together. At the heart of the series is love; for family, for your spouse and for God. While that may seem very old fashion, and it is, these are values that are not often displayed on a weekly television series and certainly not presented with the quality and grace shown here.

Posted 02/14/09

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