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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.

Censorship and the religious right will once again take center stage during primetime tonight on Aaron Sorkin’s “Saturday Night Live”-inspired backstage drama, “Studio 60.” At the end of last week’s debut, new network president Jordan McDeere gave writer/producers Matt Albie and Danny Tripp her promise that their “Crazy Christians” sketch–the same sketch that lost their predecessor his job–would be allowed to air the following week.

Picking up the story three days after McDeere’s promise, “Studio 60” writer/producers Matt Albie and Danny Tripp are at a press conference where they must once again tackle questions about the infamous comedy sketch, because the sketch has now been leaked to the media. In fact, a conservative Christian publication called “Rapture Magazine” has found out about the sketch and asks McDeere at the news conference if “Studio 60” really does plan to air it. When the magazine is told “yes,” the woman who runs the magazine does what all good conservative Christians are born to do–at least in TV land, anyway–she starts a boycott.

Immediately after the press conference, we are once again treated to some sharp dialogue that no doubt has been patterned after real-life conversations and plays up the cultural divide between Hollywood and the heartland. When McDeere snippily asks the press conference coordinator, “How many whack jobs subscribe to Rapture magazine anyway?” she is calmly told by the media coordinator that Rapture magazine has a “circulation four times the size of Vanity Fair.” McDeere and everyone else in the room is taken aback. They had no idea there were so many people out there who aren’t like them.

But while I enjoyed that little bit of sparring, the rest of the storyline illustrates one of several storytelling pitfalls Sorkin is going to face while trying to create an intelligent show-within-a-show about Hollywood. Boycotts by conservative Christian groups are really old news. Those types of stories have already been done to death, and, quite frankly, it would have been more interesting, less cliché, if a different group would have been the ones doing the boycotting–groups like the NAACP and their recent attempt at a boycott, for example.

The other pitfall Sorkin stumbles into tonight is that if you are going to write a series about a sketch-comedy show, at some point your cast will have to perform a funny sketch. However, the sketch Albie finally comes up with isn’t as funny as even a mediocre “Saturday Night Live” skit. What’s worse is that we never see the infamous “Crazy Christians” sketch at all. If you are going to spend two episodes discussing something supposedly so controversial that most of middle America would be offended, there needs to be a much better pay-off to the conflict

Don’t get me wrong, I still hold out some hope for this show to possibly resurrect intelligent, non-crime related storylines on TV this season, but tonight’s episode is not a move in the right direction. (Oh, and I’ll save my thoughts on the problem with trying to make the Harriet/Matt relationship work on the show for another time!)

If there could ever be an “accidentally great” movie, the new remake of “All the King’s Men” might be it. On the one hand, it’s a big political action drama that lacks action, lacks drama, and lacks a real sense of purpose. On the other hand, it accomplishes either a wonderful stumble or a sublime piece of greatness in mirroring our current political system and most of its participants: There’s a lot of activity and talk, but not much action or message.

In that way, “All the King’s Men” is an expensive and dressed-up version of a TV docu-drama: We were exposed to the characters but not much got solved.

It’s been a while since I had been so excited to go to the movies. As a culture blogger and political novice with an interest in spiritual reflection, I wanted to enjoy a big movie with big thoughts about big issues, such as power, money, empowerment, the rich, the poor, and the politics and history of leadership. And this was supposed to have it all: Big stars. Big trailer. Big run-up. Big anticipation. Big themes. Big message. And, in the end, Big Thud.

I’d nominate this for an Academy Award for Art Direction and, for maybe one-third of its score. It had all of the impact of, say, a televised Presidential debate: The characters feel extremely impressed with their own importance, but it’s just not making it through the screen. I was sad when it ended, partly because I was waiting for the impact moment and partly because I knew it wasn’t coming.

Willie Stark (Sean Penn) is inspired by Louisiana governor Huey Long, surrounded by an all-star cast of trite, typical characters even for today’s political landscape. Jude Law’s Jack Burden, Patricia Clarkson’s Sadie Burke, Kate Winslet’s Anne Stanton, Anthony Hopkins’ Judge Irwin, James Gandolfini’s Tiny Duffy, and Mark Ruffalo’s Adam run the range of principled to corrupt to leveraged to irrelevant. Stark navigates his way from idealist to electable to crusader to anti-hero. He gets elected as a voice for the everyday Joe but gets lost somewhere between lost idealism and found ambition. Sort of. It’s hard to tell how much of Stark’s hysterics are self-realized and how much are just, well, Sean Penn.

In the end, I’m not sure there’s enough of a message here, but on the other hand, I’m sure whatever your own message is, you could impose it on this film. And in that way, I guess it is spot on accurate in today’s political climate. Except, of course, there weren’t any spin doctors to explain it after it was over.

One of these days, the best of our actors and the finest of our scriptwriters will get the funding to bring us an intelligent political movie about the haves, the have-nots, and each of our roles in between. This, sadly, just isn’t it.