Having been on the air for a record-breaking 11 seasons (an ideal goal for any TV show, provided the actors and writers are devoted enough), "7th Heaven" was certainly a classic TV series of its time. Although many people wouldn't readily admit that it was part of their Monday night ritual for all those years, there was obviously a solid fan base that kept it going for so long, and compared to the current obsession with trashy reality TV, this series at least had a message worth sharing.
Needless to say, 11 years is a long time. The first episode aired when I was in fifth grade, and I was nearing my college graduation by the time it took its final bow, so with a show like that, you really get a chance to see the highs and the lows. There were times when "7th Heaven" was truly good, with quality writing and powerful episodes that dealt with a good range of contemporary social topics. However, as the series reached its later seasons, it really showed its age and began producing some stupid and unrealistic episodes that drifted further and further away from any kind of reality. With all things considered, though, here's a reason I've been collecting all the seasons on DVD, and there's a reason I still enjoy watching it to this day.
The original premise centered around everyday life for a Protestant minister, his homemaker wife, and their five children, all with very unique and colorful personalities of their own. There was rebellious big brother Matt, athletic Mary, emotional Lucy, inquisitive Simon, and sassy Ruthie. Later in the series, loving parents Eric and Annie expanded the family with twin sons Sam and David. They were "minister's children," so they did grow up with faith and basically good values, but they were far from perfect, and many of the weekly storylines revolved around the ups and downs of raising such a large brood. Other episodes focused on Eric and Annie's loving marriage, as well as Eric's joys and struggles as a round-the-clock counselor to his needy parishioners.
The show also found a way to shed a positive light on stay-at-home moms without condemning working parents, which was a nice bonus, but the writers' biggest draw was with the countless universal issues that pertain to the real society, not just the television world. Episodes were done about the Holocaust, September 11, American patriotism in general, Tourettes Syndrome, gang-related violence, interreligion marriages, and the more recent problems in Darfur, to name just a few "problems of the week" for the Camden clan (believe me, there were thousands of them). Some cliched topics like teen pregnancy, divorce, and alcoholism were also presented, which generally had mixed results when the episodes actually aired. Some of them seemed very forced and fell flat, while others were perfectly on target with the intended message (for example, Eric's fight to help his formerly responsible younger sister through a devastating alcohol problem was beautifully done and nicely developed over the series' run). It just depends on what seasons you are watching. Seasons 1-5 are pretty top-notch, while 6-11 leave a lot to be desired most of the time.
Critics of "7th Heaven" would probably spend most of their time talking about its tendency to be preachy, as well as the attitudes of certain characters as the series went on. I agree with a previous poster who said that some of the children's behavior was definitely irritating, especially youngest daughter Ruthie, who seemed to manipulate her parents from age 6 to 16. Maybe it's because I grew up in a family where the kids absolutely did not "rule the roost" (which is exactly the way it should be), but I do think that Ruthie got away with far too much, and middle child Lucy was more than a little overexaggerated with her sometimes psychotic "drama queen" personality. In that sense, Eric and Annie's arguably lax parenting methods weren't always the perfect message, but underneath it all, they were certainly very loving parents who tried teaching their children to serve others in the community, and that's a valid lesson for anyone.
You'll probably enjoy this show if you're looking for something with Christian-based morals, social issues addressed in each episode, and a good, loving American family at the center. There's plenty to like about it, at least when it was in its prime, and again, if you want "7th Heaven" at its best, I'd go with the first five seasons. Overall, I think I would give it 7/10. There are definitely those days when I am in the mood to curl up on the couch, turn on a good episode, and enjoy an hour with the Camdens, and in fact, it's actually sounding pretty good right about now...