The Parents Television Council (PTC), a pro-family watchdog group, has released its annual Top 10 lists, highlighting what it considers to be the best and the worst broadcast TV shows for family viewing.
The "best" list includes mostly inoffensive sit-coms like Reba, Everybody Loves Raymond, and The Bernie Mac Show. 7th Heaven, the long-running serial about a pastor and his family, also makes the cut, as does American Dream, a drama that features a Philadelphia family living through the 1960s. Two reality programs, the talent show American Idol and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, round out the A list.
This latter is not to be confused with other "extreme makeover" shows depicting plastic surgery. Home Edition fixes up a house for people in need, as part of a new genre of TV shows celebrating the wholesome virtues of working with one's hands.
The best family show of all, according to the Parents Television Council, is Joan of Arcadia. God appears to its teenage star in different guises, telling her to do things she does not understand but which prove to have a positive impact on the people around her. Even the critics like it, praising its strong writing, good performances, and interesting themes.
But are "family values" enough? Christian parents will appreciate the show's quality, morality, and even its worldview in which God is personal and real. But Joan's deity claims to be the same one worshipped not only by Christians but by all the world's religions. He talks to her not in the pages of the Bible but directly, and there are other theologically incorrect elements in the show. The show might be taken symbolically. Still, parents concerned about TV's influence on their kids will have to ask themselves which is better, a show with bad theology or a show with no theology at all?
Another consideration: Do shows in which everything is sweetness and light accurately portray a biblical worldview? A show in which everyone is good, morality is easy, and nothing bad ever happens might show "family values," but it would not be Christian. Christianity is not all about being good. It is about how Christ died for our sins and how to find forgiveness for our not being good. A Christian worldview is going to recognize that sin is real, as is both judgment and grace. It will have a skeptical view of human nature, while affirming the worth of every human life. It will understand both the dark side and the bright side of life.
The PTC's "worst" list includes four salacious sitcoms (That '70s Show, Two and a Half Men, Girlfriends, Will & Grace), two salacious dramas (Everwood, Las Vegas), one salacious reality show (The Surreal Life), and one that is just gross (Fear Factor). Rounding off the list are two gross police dramas (CSI and Cold Case) with their decaying corpses and graphic autopsies.
The problem with most of these is that they portray something immoral (usually extramarital sex) in an alluring way, as if nothing were wrong with it. But is grossness, per se, necessarily harmful? Those forensic medical shows can be grisly in showing dead bodies. Christian children have been exposed to death for centuries-plagues, battlefields, relatives who died at home- and only now do we feel a need to protect them from such a reality. On the other hand, families in the Middle Ages or on the frontier might indeed have seen a lot of death, but they did not take pleasure in it or use dead bodies as means of entertainment.
The PTC explains that it puts CSI and Cold Case on its worst list not just for the forensic science but for their flashbacks of brutally violent crimes and for their recent penchant for recounting bizarre sexual practices.
But without such excesses, crime shows and mysteries in general can have a good worldview effect. They depict truth as being objective and knowable. This wound could only have been made by this weapon, which could only have been in the possession of someone who. . . . An inexorable chain of logic and evidence is established and followed, until it finally points to the real killer.
In a culture that tends to assume truth is relative and nothing more than a personal construction, the portrayal of truth outside the self can be a family value.