7th Heaven: The Eighth Season, recently released on DVD, is noticeably less focused than earlier seasons of the long-running show. By this point, entire episodes sometimes feature scarce participation from members of the Camden family. The storytelling has branched out, with mixed results, to include many peripheral characters. More often than not, these soapy plot lines are not very interesting and seem more like unrelated tangents.
7th Heaven has often done a good job of tackling serious subject matter. Even as late as the seventh season, Reverend Eric Camden (Stephen Collins) struggles with a loss of purpose, nearly retiring from the church, following heart surgery. But in The Eighth Season, the show itself seems to have lost its purpose. The eldest Camden offspring – Mary (Jessica Biel) and Matt (Barry Watson) – are adults, living their own lives and showing up infrequently for guest spots. Simon (David Gallagher) abruptly heads off to college midway through this season. The youngest of the Camden clan, twins Sam (Lorenzo Brino) and David (Nikolas Brino), continue to be treated more like props than actual characters. What's left is a revolving door of side characters who sometimes have very little to do with the family.
For some reason Cecilia (Ashlee Simpson) keeps turning up at the Camden's house for activities – even though she's broken things off with Simon (who's not around for much of the season anyway). Her new love interest, Martin (Tyler Hoechlin), was introduced early in the season when he trespassed on the Camden's property posing as Simon's friend. Other characters that are hard to care about include Peter Petrowski's parents. Peter (Scotty Leavenworth) is Ruthie Camden's boyfriend, and his divorced parents may possibly reunite. Peter prefers Eric's associate pastor Chandler (Jeremy London), who was dating his mom Paris (Shannon Kenny), but things didn't work out.
I could go on explaining the tangled web of boring story lines, but there wouldn't be much point. Sadly, there are a few interesting ideas that didn't get the attention they deserved. Simon, prior to the first episode of season eight, accidentally killed a kid in a car accident and finds himself wracked with guilt. Mary surprises her parents by revealing she eloped with a homeless man and kept it a secret from the family. Matt's marriage has hit the skids and fears he won't be able to put the pieces back together. These scenarios alone had enough potential to sustain the entire season, but unfortunately they weren't given the time they deserved.
7th Heaven: The Eighth Season remains compulsively watchable. Stephen Collins continues to provide the show's best acting in the role of Eric Camden. Richard Lewis provides a bright spot anytime he guest stars as Rabbi Richard Glass, Matt's father-in-law. I just think the show worked better when it was about raising a family, with all the trials and tribulations that accompany that task. The Eighth Season strains to expand beyond the Camdens and their various exploits, but ultimately comes across as scattershot.