Eric Camden, a minister presented calmly, sometimes pigheadedly, by Stephen Collins, and ’50s-TV-type wife Annie (Catherine Hicks), who plays gamely through , are parents of five youngsters designed, obviously, to provide heart tugs and knowing laughs. Director Sam Weisman manages to differentiate the kids, but everyone has an artificial air until Graham Jarvis and Alice Hirson turn up late in the proceedings.
“7th Heaven” focuses on things the Aaron Spelling-Leonard Goldberg “Family” series of the ’70s couldn’t and wouldn’t touch. Yet writer-creator Brenda Hampton’s initial episode is tame enough to roll over, with Collins’ Eric often bordering on the dim.
Oldest is Matt (Barry Watson), 16, who sneaks cigarettes and can’t keep a job. Mary, 14, an athletic type, secretly yearns for Matt’s pal Jeff (Ryan Bittle) and, in a dismal seg, goes through a ridiculous learning-to-kiss routine with brother Matt. Lucy (Beverley Mitchell), 12, startles the onetime family hour with her concerns about no-show menstruation.
Then there’s tow-headed Simon (David Gallagher), 10, who keeps praying to get a dog but is told repeatedly that he’s too young to care for a pooch — remember the goldfish! Simon trains Ruthie (MacKenzie Rosman), 3, to be his bowwow till the real thing comes along. It’s not clear why such a model family hasn’t already got a pooch, but let that pass.
Eileen Brennan’s used as Eric’s foil to stop Eric’s smoking; it isn’t amusing. Something that does perk up the predictable family doings is the arrival of Annie’s parents (Hirson, Jarvis), who don’t much care for Eric. They bring news that might give the mild freshman series a boost: They’ve come to stay awhile, and they seem real.
Opener looks slick, and the acting’s acceptable throughout, even if the characters aren’t that involving. Will Matt give up smoking? Will Lucy become a woman? Will Mary get to date older boys? Will Simon get his dog? And will home-plumber Annie fix that disposal, or minister Eric just wake up? Somehow they’re not burning issues.
Tech credits are sharp, J.A.C. Redford’s score is solid. But the prospects don’t look good.