I’m no Russell Kirk when it comes to television.
The Birzers own one, and, as patriarch, I’ve yet to throw it out the window of any floor of our house. But, we haven’t had any cable or any channels–not a single one–since 2002. Our decision to cancel all TV had little to do with principle. It had, frankly, everything to do with frugality. We ordered cable immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center in September 2001, believing we would be glued to news for years to come. No glue adhered, nor did any interested in the one-eyed demon. Cable is expensive, and we found ourselves watching next to nothing for a lot of money a month, all of it going to waste.
Like many Americans, we subscribe to Netflix (online and disk), and we liberally download from iTunes, especially when it comes to good family shows. The best show I’ve seen recently is a sitcom, silly as possible, and…from Disney.
Disney, to be sure, has had its ups and downs, but since it began working with Pixar and especially since merging with Pixar and bringing John Lassiter on board, it has become, once again, a powerful force for creativity, imagination, and, most likely, well-earned profit.
Every member of the Birzer family–from age 46 to age 2–gathers happily when the latest episode of our favorite show, Good Luck, Charlie, has downloaded. It doesn’t appear with much regularity, but a new episode appears on iTunes every other week or so. Now in its fifth (and perhaps final) season, the series began when the protagonist, Teddy, is 14, quickly going on 17.
Teddy is the oldest daughter of a well-meaning, goofy entrepreneur, Bob, and a narcissistic, stunning wife, Amy Duncan. Her oldest brother, PJ, is possibly the nicest guy on earth, but not so bright. Her little brother, Gabe, is a mischievous and brilliant hoot, slowly realizing how important it is to be good and to use his intelligence for bettering things rather than causing trouble. His trouble, it should be noted, is the Leave It to Beaver kind of trouble. Teddy’s youngest sister is Charlie, pretty, blonde, and growing up just a little too similar to her mother. The youngest boy, still in diapers, has no distinct personality, as of yet.
Ostensibly written as a series of flashbacks, somewhat like Wonder Years, every episode ends with a video diary of Teddy offering advice to Charlie. “Good luck, Charlie” are her words to end each show. Usually, the line is delivered with resignation or sarcasm. Secondary characters help make the show, especially the friends of the three oldest kids. The best of these characters is the loud, bossy, self-centered, self-righteous neighbor, Mrs. Dabny.
In some ways, Good Luck Charlie is a typical sitcom. The father is goofy, the mother is arrogant. Both are well-meaning, and they often have to learn from their children. But, their children make mistakes as well–repeatedly, and they learn from the parents, too. Indeed, the Duncan family is a true family, a true community, a reflection of what an association should be. Dysfunctional, but striving to find order and goodness.
What makes the show distinct, is just how tight the family is. Unlike most modern families, the Duncans work out all of their problems. And, they do so as a family unit with humor and good cheer. The parents are proud to have the five kids…though, of course, the jokes about big families abound. When Amy remembers, in a recent episode, that she got out of attending her husband’s “prom/dance” for the professional association of exterminators, she sighs, “Why didn’t I get pregnant again this year? I could’ve had an excuse to miss this.”
Perhaps the best episode, though, came a little over a year earlier, as Amy announced to her family that she was pregnant with her fifth child. The writers and the actors made no comment critical of a family of what might be called “breeders” by certain elements in our society. Instead, the announcement, though surprising, was filled with the joy of life, a celebration of a new soul to enter into the world.
Religion is generally absent in the show (except when Bob becomes an internet minister, rather hilariously), though the Duncans are probably lapsed Catholics from the few hints that have been dropped. The morality and the ethics, though, are fully recognizable as traditional and offered without shame. Sometimes, the humor is stomach socking (as in, I laughed so hard, my stomach hurt), such as when PJ gets asked by a very cute girl to attend her prom. Smitten with her, PJ agrees but finds out, at the prom, that she’s homeschooled. Much to PJ’s dismay, the dance takes place in the girl’s basement, with her parents and grandparents hovering over the couple, taking pictures without end.
The show is also delightful as it is never political, and it never preaches, just demonstrates. There are no messages about racial conflict, for example, as every character is simply treated with respect, regardless of the accidents of birth.
Recently, a spate of blogs and articles have arisen on Christian websites stating: “don’t let your little girls grow up to be Disney princesses.” My own experience has been quite different. While I don’t want my daughters to imitate Lindsay Lohan, I’d be more than happy if they engage in a little hero-worship of Teddy, as a character and an actor. In the show, she’s kind, self-effacing, and incredibly bright. In real life, the actress, Bridgit Mendler, seems every bit as sweet and wholesome as her Disney character.
If you’re looking for a g-rated, pro-children, pro-family show to enjoy with your kids, look no further. Start at the beginning, and watch the antics of the Duncans, as they grow to love one another profoundly.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.