You know, I’ll say this about Lifetime’s Preachers’ Daughters: the show doesn’t put up a lot of obstacles to new viewers. You remember how Murder One was a great show, except that if you didn’t start watching at the first or maybe the second episode you wouldn’t understand anything? Yeah, that’s not the case with Preachers’ Daughters. If you watched episode three last night—or if you watch it online here now—you could count on being caught up within a few minutes: Olivia, from California, is a former party girl turned pious teen mom who has just learned the paternity of her daughter Eden. Taylor, from Illinois, finds it difficult to integrate her church persona (and her pastor father’s strict rules) with her desire to party, date, and wear sexy clothes. And Kolby is the youngest of four daughters who were raised with a lot of emphasis upon avoiding premarital sex. All three are preachers’ daughters. There, now you’re basically caught up.
The third episode is my favorite so far, because it’s the one which has relied the least upon a cartoonish and overplayed setup. That would be the setup wherein we’re meant to be surprised that a preacher’s daughter, like, makes imprudent decisions and has sexual feelings just like a regular human adolescent girl, O MY STARS! In fact, though, there wasn’t a lot in this episode that required the parents to be preachers. Indeed, all of the plot points seemed like normal—if poignant—vignettes from three Christian families’ lives. To wit:
Olivia visited a lawyer with her dad, Mark, to find out what access and/or visitation rights Eden’s biological father might claim in the future. (At the moment he’s not even returning her calls or texts.) The news is discouraging to them both. There’s nothing they can do to guarantee the biological father won’t show up in a few years and disrupt their family’s stability. Olivia, though, handles the situation with maturity, and her parents commend her for it. But when a friend drops in from her party days and she has lunch with him, her parents fear that she might start using drugs again.
Meanwhile Taylor is still grounded in the evenings because she lied to her parents about spending the night at a friend’s when she really went to a party in a hotel room. While she’s at a bowling alley with some pals, Taylor runs into a fellow she knows, and he asks her out on a proper date. Taylor, in turn, asks her dad Ken for permission. He initially balks. But—and this was sort of awesome—the rest of the family out-argues him. Marie tells Ken that he’s living vicariously through Taylor because he regrets his own decisions. Taylor points out that if she only avoids bad decisions because she was prevented from making any decisions, she won’t have learned much responsibility. And then she makes a theological argument that God gave human beings free will, ergo her father should give her some freedom. (Confidential to Taylor: The whole divine freedom/human freedom question is completely fascinating and totally worth looking into further!) Ultimately it is decided that Taylor can go on that date, but her parents will go along. Derp. TUNE IN NEXT TIME, etc.
Finally, Kolby has had a rough time of it. Last week her older sister Teryn told the whole family that she’d not been a virgin when she got married, which sent Kolby into spasms of tears over the fact that Teryn had “gone against everything we believe.” And indeed, Kolby’s mother Victoria—whose ministry is literally telling teenagers not to have sex—seems to have emphasized this one teaching to an extreme degree. (Which is surprising, considering that Victoria says “Oh my God!” often, on camera, and has been divorced and remarried: two things that are often verboten in super-strict pious Christian households. I wonder how she reconciles that in her mind, given her understanding of the Bible. Perhaps we’ll find out in a later episode.)
Teryn explains to Kolby, several times, that she revealed her personal history so that Kolby would know that her worth won’t be spoiled forever if she has sex. Kolby’s reaction reminded me of people who desperately want to lose weight and get angry when someone tells them “I love you no matter what size you are.” In the strained logic of someone committed to realizing a particular ideal at any cost, another’s unconditional acceptance becomes sabotage: how dare you not support me while I tie my self-worth to this standard? Then again, Kolby’s only sixteen, and she’s been hearing these messages her whole life. The episode closes with Kolby breaking it off with her boyfriend, Micah, because she needs to sort out how she feels about dating. That was an ambivalent moment: Kolby does seem confused about dating, and good for her that she doesn’t fear singleness too much to quit dating someone she’s confused about. On the other hand, I wish Kolby’s takeaway from Teryn’s self-disclosure had not been that purity must be even more high-stakes than she’d realized, and dating even more dangerous.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. We have no access to these people’s normal lives. We’re watching how they act when they know they’re on a television show, when there are camera crews following them around getting video of their every action, and when that video has then been edited to make good television. I don’t know Kolby Koloff, Taylor Coleman, or Olivia Perry, or their families, and neither do you. (Edited to add: Er, unless you’re actually a cast member reading these recaps — of which there are evidently at least two, judging from a couple of very nice notes sent to me in the last couple of days. Shucks, that made my day.) We know only depictions—depictions which have been made with an audience in mind.
Of course, except for the camera crews, the same might be said for many of us. Conservative Christian or no, these are fairly common struggles. Trying to meet competing standards. Confusing “support” with “agreeing to shame me when I do something that I think would make me dirty-bad-wrong-impure-ugly-fat-gross!” Negotiating one’s way into more responsibility, and then having to figure out what to do with it. Confronting the fact that another person could decide to totally disrupt one’s life while leaving one with no real recourse. Trying to communicate to one’s children that they are more than just reflections on you, while trying meanwhile to ignore that others see them exactly as reflections on you. And always, always doing so in the presence of others who are watching, evaluating, commenting, liking, sharing, and (occasionally) getting pictures or video footage.
Could it be that reality shows’ appeal not just because viewers like leering at people with lives very different from their own? Could it be that the surveillance-tainment of reality shows actually feels all too familiar, and it’s nice to see someone else undergoing it for a change?