7th Heaven: Season Five
Some many groups clamor for family oriented television programs. The strange thing is when a network provides a show that is gentle, topical fit for the whole family it is often labeled as bland and boring. Now if you add a strong belief in God into the mix there will be critics that will call the show religious propaganda. The facts do not bear out these preconceived opinions of such television series. Not only is it possible to make a series that has good family values, mentions God and is entertaining, it has been done, Such series as ‘Highway to Heaven’ and ‘Touched by an Angle’ were entertaining and still managed to give a positive message. One other series topped these two as the longest running family drama in television history, ‘7th Heaven’. Not only that it managed to keep the same time spot for almost its entire run; something unheard of in television. The premise was simple, the life of a large family where the father is a local minister. It is also only natural for a show that was to run for 11 years to have some changes. For ‘7th Heaven’ one of the most pivotal seasons, the fifth, is now released by Paramount in a DVD season set. This was a season that would directly lead to changes in the cast and the overall feel of the series in subsequent seasons.
What helped make this series the record holder for genre longevity is its universal appeal. There where children representing several basic age groups from grade school through late teens. The parents could appreciate the adults here, they were not the typical clueless parents seen in many shows. These parents were actively concerned with the development of their children but also able to still remain in love with each other. Disagreements happen on a weekly basis here but underneath it all is a mutual love and respect. Then there is the touch issue of God in a weekly series. This show never pushed religion down the throats of the audience. A strong sense of religious beliefs guides the characters but they never depend on a divine miracle when the writers are in a bind for a resolution. The one word that comes to mind watching any season of the show is wholesome. While the show forwards mostly conservative views it never crosses over to the overly zealous fundamental track. Many episodes even have a more progressive social attitude demonstrated. For the children there is the very natural added pressure of being a minister’s kid. The community expects them to be perfect or act wild with little in between. Actually what is shown here is a bunch of kids that are normal with the same social problems as their peers.
In this season some behind the scenes drama leaks into the plots. Early in 2000 the actress playing Mary Camden, Jessica Biel wanted to break away from the spotless clean cut image that her character fostered. Even through she was only 17 at the time she posed almost naked for a men’s magazine, Gear. She also lost out on a much sought role in the Oscar wining film, ‘American Beauty’. She wanted out of the family friendly series so she could reinvent her image for edgier film roles. In response to this the producers had the writers begin to alter Mary’s character. While Mary was always the good girl who did well scholastically and excelled in basketball, she began a major rebellious trend. At the end of the forth season she got in legal trouble for vandalizing the school’s gym. As the fifth season starts out Mary has put off going to college using the loss of her basketball scholarship as a flimsy excuse. She has problems holding down even the most menial jobs in places like the family friendly pool hall. When she takes a job in a local pizza place she meets a married couple, Frankie (Chyler Leigh) and Johnnie (Nathan West). Even though the couple has a baby they drink beer and smoke pot. Mary is caught driving after drinking but because the officer knows her father she gets off with a warning. She gets deep into debt and is risking the revocation of her legal probation. The family has to stage an intervention and ultimately she is sent off to Buffalo, New York to live with her grandparents.
The eldest of the brood, Matt (Barry Watson) also goes through some changes. In this season he does a lot of growing up, improving his grades and sets his sights on medical school. He also becomes involved for a while with a hearing impaired girl, Heather, played by hearing impaired actress Andrea Ferrell. The romance doesn’t last long and Matt even tries to interrupt her wedding. Younger brother Simon (David Gallagher) is experiencing a hormone surge in this season. He winds up dating twins played by the Olsen Twins. Lucy (Beverley Mitchell) begins to settle down from the boy crazy girl shown in previous episodes and briefly becomes engaged to Jeremy (Mike Pierce). Through out all the teen angst the one thing that is constant is the strength of the parents Eric (Stephen Collins) and Annie (Catherine Hicks). They are always there to make the decisions for the best interest of the family no matter how difficult they are. In this season they start a trend that would become more dominate in later seasons; taking in teenagers. They wind up letting Mary’s ex boyfriend Robbie (Adam LaVorgna), a boy she met in her community service.
This is one of the best family dramas ever to be shown on television and the fifth season under consideration here is one of the strongest in the series. The topics shown are relevant to all members of the family audience but never get preachy in the presentation or resolution. It shows that sometimes parents have to be the authority for the kids even if it means sending them off to get help. While the setting of Glenoaks is an idealized community it does appear to be diverse enough to provide the background for stories everybody can relate to. The strongest stories still require a great cast to present them and this series had the best. Each actor comes across as committed to their roles and bringing a fully formed human being to the audience. Jessica Biel used her personal ambitions to get the most out of her character. This season had some of the best work she did on the series. Barry Watson also does a great job here. He shows us a boy in the midst of becoming a man. Most series would play this over the top especially with girls but in season Matt learns starts to learn to focus. Collins and Hicks give the audience two of the best parental roles models ever. They are patient but can get angry. They discipline their children out of love and rely on their faith to get through everything.
Once again Paramount opens their incredible vault of television for DVD release. They have some of the best, most loved series and they give us box sets worth owning. The full screen video and Dolby Stereo audio does a good job but nothing really special. Unfortunately there are no extras presented here. Even though this series lives on in re-runs this is well worth adding to your collection.