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The best TV family dramas, in my opinion, are the ones that leave us feeling like we knew a family from the beginning to the end of a particularly intense period in their lives. The best of these were “Wonder Years” and “Six Feet Under,” where the series finales literally showed us that these people went on to live the rest of their lives without us.

7th Heaven,” the longest-running family drama in television history, allegedly had its series finale at the end of last season, but returned for an 11th on the CW network last night. There are lots of reasons why this move made no sense. But maybe the show returned because the finale had left the Camden family unsatisfactorially on the same trajectory we had always seen them on.

Those who were supposed to be married were married, everyone was pregnant (with twins!), and everyone had found their vocation–some, their calling. Not that “7th Heaven” was ever really about life the way it actually is, but come on–this was way too neat and clean.

So last night’s season opener started with the funny thing about trajectories: they can change without warning. Lucy miscarried her twins, sending her into a spiral of anger and spite that was extreme even for her character. But there was something else to her and Kevin that’s often been missing from the show–palpable sadness. It was in their eyes, their body language, and it finally gave the show a chance to begin to tackle the fascinating premise of when bad things happen to people who aren’t just good, but, like a minister’s family, are expected to be really good.

As Lucy struggled with recovering herself, Annie confronted her empty(ing) nest, and Martin and Sandy wrestled with whether two people who are not in love should marry for the sake of the child they have together. The fixed roles that have sustained this family for so long are being challenged.

If only the acting would warm up a bit, this could wind up being a compelling season. And maybe at the end of it, the Camdens can finally leave us with the sense that although their lives wil go on, we’ve seen them through some tough times.

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