7th Heaven



8-9 p.m., Sunday, May 13
The CW

It has been a show that's received woefully little respect, which is pretty ridiculous when you consider that "7th Heaven" has survived an astonishing 11 seasons, making it (gasp) the longest-running family drama in TV history. Seriously. Talk about your Divine Intervention. A series that launched with the WB Network somehow outlived it.

"Heaven" finally takes a decidedly belated journey into eternity with a typically fuzzy series capper that's very much a microcosm of the series itself: sweet, wholesome and relentlessly earnest, the primetime equivalent of bleached white flour. But these descriptions are meant to convey a certain admiration for creator/exec producer Brenda Hampton's big ol' sack of syrupy sentiment. Even when the show was unapologetically cornball -- which happened, oh, maybe 98% of the time -- it nonetheless stood as a well-produced, solidly acted island of familial warmth and civility in a sea of disrespect and dysfunction.

Mind you, airing for all of these years on WB before the CW, "7th Heaven" played out as a surrealistic parallel universe unto itself alongside the blasphemous likes of "Dawson's Creek," "One Tree Hill" and "Gilmore Girls." But if you watched this show much, a strange thing happened: You got hooked. It was whitebread, but far more La Brea Bakery than Wonder.

Stephen Collins (as Rev. Eric Camden) and Catherine Hicks (as wife Annie) are consistently appealing performers who throughout the show's run acquitted themselves well. The finale finds the couple and their brood hopping into an RV given to them as a gift and setting off to tour the country with no particular destination in mind. All clearly will live hokily ever after. It is as it should be.

While there is little question that "Heaven" felt dated from the moment it arrived in 1996, give a little credit where it's due. The show did deal honestly with alcoholism, divorce, premarital sex and numerous other issues of the post-"Little House on the Prairie" world. More importantly, however, it supplied a living room refuge of unconditional love that could leave you with a little (albeit itty-bitty) tear. As Sheryl Crow is fond of saying, if it makes you happy, it can't be that bad.