It's the Waltons with bad kid actors, a mom gone wiggy, and a Big Lesson every week, says Ken Tucker
Jessica Biel, 7th Heaven
Credit: Jessica Biel: Dorothy Low/The WB

Why ”7th Heaven” is the WB’s biggest hit

”7th Heaven” has taken a nasty turn this season: Mother Annie (Catherine Hicks), who had been acting atypically grumpy to her large family during the first few weeks of the new season, recently revealed that she’s going through menopause.

Speaking of pauses, let’s stop here a moment while you ‘fess up: C’mon, you watch ”7th Heaven” (Mondays, 8 p.m.) sometimes, don’t you? Someone is — it’s the WB’s highest-rated, if least hyped, show. I’ve found scores of closet ”7th Heaven”-watchers, some of whom take it at face value: the tale of the Camden family, headed by the Rev. Eric Camden (deep-dimpled Stephen Collins), wife Annie, and his wildly disparate slew of children, eldest daughter and disgraced vixen Mary (Jessica Biel), eldest son and mussy-haired hospital-orderly Matt (Barry Watson), teens Lucy (a former brat-hellion turned preacher-girl played by Beverley Mitchell), perpetually-peeved Simon (David Gallagher), and the most obnoxiously supercilious pre-teen in prime-time, Ruthie (Mackenzie Rosman), plus a couple of baby-age twins whose names are as forgettable as their personalities.

All this, plus Mary’s former boyfriend, Robbie (Adam LaVorgna), a rootless youth who’s moved into the house this season. Every episode, we’re taught a lesson: Don’t be selfish; don’t lie; don’t be the last one in the house or you’ll have to babysit those unnervingly calm twins.

Other, more closeted, ”Heaven” fans find the show campily fascinating. Aside from Collins and Hicks, both of whom are effortless pros, none of the rest of the cast can act worth much of a lick, so the producers have devised a canny plan: They surround the kid-actors with WORSE kid-actors, who play their friends, foes, or temptors. The effect on most weeks is like watching a very earnestly staged high school play caught on film.

But back to Mom’s menopause. Where Annie used to be the most cheerful, long-suffering Camden (she had to be, with all those kids and the pressure of being a minister’s wife), she’s now become the most unpleasant, mean-spirited one. The writers seem to think menopause provokes a Jekyl-and-Hyde personality-switch, and Annie’s non-stop foul moods have come to seem downright cruel when directed by tykes like Ruthie and the twins.

It’s time Social Services paid a little visit to the Camden rectory to administer a sound talking-to to the minister’s wife. When I tune in to ”7th Heaven,” I’m looking for what it’s always been: a 21st century ”Waltons.” Instead, mamma Annie is becoming a home-wrecker, inflicting psychic damage on her offspring. She’s scarier than her time-period competitor, ”Weakest Link” insult comic Anne Robinson.

Are you watching ”7th Heaven,” too?

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