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Paramount Studios presents
7th Heaven: The Complete First Season (1996)

"Seventh Heaven, when I see their happy faces smilin' back at me.
Seventh Heaven, I know there's no greater feelin' than the love of family."

- lyrics from theme song

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: September 13, 2004

Stars: Stephen Collins, Catherine Hicks, Barry Watson, Jessica Biel, Beverley Mitchell, David Gallagher, Mackenzie Rosman
Other Stars: Alice Hirson, Graham Jarvis, Dorian Harewood, Richard Moll, Deborah Raffin, Tamara Mello, Eileen Brennan, Peter Graves, Barbara Rush, Beverly Garland
Director: various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 16h:39m:00s
Release Date: September 14, 2004
UPC: 097360537147
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B-BB- D-

DVD Review

Brace yourselves for the warm, fuzzy glow of family values, courtesy of Paramount and this 22-episode set of the complete first season—from way back in 1996—of the long-running series 7th Heaven. To the casual observer, this show is probably notable for launching the eye-pealing career of Jessica Biel, but to the faithful this family-oriented series harkens back more to the Waltons-era than the sexified world of The O.C..

A creation of prolific schlockmeister Aaron Spelling and Brenda Hampton, 7th Heaven is kind of a throwback show, one that took the moral high road and bypassed going the easy sleazy route. While it still dabbled in a lot of the same issues (smoking, young love, accidents, alcoholism, disease, death, extramarital affairs), the stable of main characters were far more morally grounded, and without the typical mean-spirited tactics of other dramas.

In this first season, Reverend Eric Camden (Stephen Collins) and his wife Annie (Catherine Hicks) are busy, busy, busy living, loving and raising their five Central Casting children: hunky 16-year-old Matt (Barry Watson), blossoming 14-year-old Mary (Jessica Biel), brainy 12-year-old Lucy (Beverley Mitchell), wheeler-dealer youngster Simon (David Gallagher) and cute-as-a-button five-year-old Ruthie (Mackenzie Rosman). The complete and utter lack of any semblance of family resemblance between any two characters notwithstanding, the Camden clan are that rare television animal—a family unit that actually loves each other and treats one another with kindness, even when there is some kind of social or emotional issue to be resolved. They are seemingly always smiley and nice. Damn them.

If you haven't seen the show, it is probably hard to understand just how smiley and nice the Camdens are. I mean they are actually beyond nice, having advanced on to some entirely new plane of being that makes the mere act of being nice seem like a step backwards. It is startling in its wholesome niceness, all shiny and bright in their little shiny, bright world where even though bad things happen, the unheard of occurs and people talk to one another and appear to listen to what the other one has to say. My cynical side has to initially repress the bile that rises up when that theme song starts—consider it a gag reflex—but when my belly settles there is a secret little part of me that wishes real family life could be more like the Camden and less like the Manson family.

I can move past the huge (we're talking Vatican huge) house the Camdens live in, and I can even forgive the top-heavy loading of standard "family drama" plots, because of a strange thing that happens in just about every episode. Just when I'm about to walk away, ready to dismiss the eternal happiness, a line or two of dialogue slides out that is surprisingly succinct in its realism, sounding wholly lifelike and appropriate. Without a doubt the hidden strength is in the writing of 7th Heaven; that's what fills the mouths of the oh-so-nice Camdens with the kind of words that a real family might say, though unfortunately it is wedged in between lots of niceties and platitudes, amidst barely perceptible religious posturing (Mr. Camden is a reverend, after all). For example, the family's open and casual talk about Lucy's impending period—though it mortifies her to no end—bounds around with a fine and completely unexpected mix of anger, affection, and, of course, the obligatory kind words to smooth over the speed bumps.

I guess I'm a little jealous the Camdens. Mr. and Mrs. still play kissy-face at a moment's notice, their kids are all eternally cute in their own way, problems get worked out through love and, yes, even a little faith. Again—damn those Camdens. For all its sappiness, the show is now in its ninth season—in and of itself a pretty impressive stat in this day and age of implied moral decay—though the youngsters have grown, the requisite twins have been added, and Biel has pretty much moved on to other things (last seen wearing a tight white t-shirt and battling Leatherface).

There can't be families like this in real life. Can there?

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: All 22 episodes are presented here in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Colors are warm, with a hint of shimmer in some sequences, but otherwise a solid, if not ordinary, transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is available in a conservative 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo surround mix, and it delivers clean dialogue with a minimal amount of rear channel activity. The presentation is simple and effective, offering no real showcase moments (not that there should be on a show like this) and comes across pleasant and extremely suited to the material.

A French language 2.0 track is also included for 21 of the 22 episodes, with Choices being the only one that lacks this option.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 136 cues and remote access
Packaging: Nexpak
Picture Disc
6 Discs
6-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: This set comes packaged with six colorful thin line NexPak cases housed in cardboard slipcase, but not one iota of extras. No trailers, EPKs, bios, or anything to be found here, so if you really hate gratuitous advertising this set should be a breath of fresh air.

Each episode is cut into 6 chapters.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

This is an easy show to rip on—especially for a normally cynical type like myself—thanks in large part to its modern-day-family-values/Waltons persona. The schmaltz factor is notched a little too high for my tastes (and the less I say about the religious element the better) but underneath all the eternally smiling faces are relatable messages and themes that will have an identifiable air about them, even if you don't want to admit it.


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