What is a family?
It's a question that's almost as hard to answer as What is a TV show? We all have in our mind what a family looks like, but often that image is unduly shaped by our own. Families can be missing a father or mother. A new stepparent may be in the picture. The kids might be gone. Grandma might be there. Homes may be filled with children who originally came from other, more troubled situations, or who were born halfway around the world. In some families, love is the only commonality.
"Families don't have to match," says Leigh Anne Tuohy, the energetic instigator of UP's new reality show Family Addition. "Families don't have anything to do with genes."
Tuohy knows of what she speaks. And many of us have already met her—in the guise of Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side. She's the real-life mom behind that inspirational story, the woman who adopted Michael Oher, a homeless kid struggling with grades who eventually became an NFL lineman.
Now Tuohy steps into a reality program to help other folks with some nontraditional families of their own.
Every week, Leigh Anne and "Team Tuohy" (including Sue Mitchell—affectionately called Miss Sue and played in The Blind Side by Kathy Bates, and Leigh Anne's daughter Collins) lend a hand to families going through some sort of difficulty. Often, it's through the bewildering and frustrating process of legal adoption. Sometimes, the changes can be less legal and more of a lifestyle issue. One single mom, for example, needs help raising her child; her mother's volunteered, but there's no room for Mom to live with them. Team Tuohy to the rescue.
The result is a curious mash-up of a Hallmark Channel family drama and something you'd see on HGTV. Leigh Anne's background in home design makes her well-suited to breathe new life into a family home. And if the family itself is new? If Mom and Dad are in the process of ushering new children into their domicile? Leigh Anne serves as enthusiastic cheerleader (and occasional "get 'er done" busybody). Indeed, she's as much of a character as Sandra Bullock made her out to be, and an effervescent presence onscreen.
"I am so grateful to have the opportunity to share these amazing families with the world and to promote this issue which is near and dear to my heart," Leigh Anne says in her show's press materials. "The ability to provide a rich life full of love and security, and to be surrounded by a supportive family, is the greatest gift a person can give a child in need. Hopefully, the wonderful families that we profile on this show will inspire many more to take on the challenge of fostering and adopting a child."
Hers is the first original show for the inspirational cable channel UP, which is the new name for GMC, which, in turn, was once the Gospel Music Channel. Family Addition isn't explicitly Christian; you may see more obvious references to faith on Duck Dynasty. But the show's spiritual foundations are obvious: Leigh Anne, Miss Sue and Collins really believe that families—loving, steady families—form the bedrock on which successful lives and caring people are built. Nothing is more important to children, this show suggests, than giving them the support structure—a family—in which to grow.
That's a message that really resonates with us here at Plugged In, which is a facet of Focus on the Family. So while Family Addition feels a little rougher and less focused than some of the big-name/big-channel reality shows out there, its heart is a whole lot larger.
In this premiere episode, Leigh Anne and Miss Sue help Brian and Tiffany Soto, a newly married couple in the process of adopting Elijah, the 5-year-old biological son of Tiffany's sister. They've only been married for three months, but Tiffany's cared for Elijah for the last two years, and Brian's been in the picture, we learn, for about 18 months. "He needs to know he can call somewhere home," Tiffany says, "and I'm going to give that to him in the best way I can."
Team Tuohy helps with some foundational stuff—providing an outlet for some of Elijah's energy (Tae Kwon Do), encouraging new "traditions" they can all participate in as a family (growing herbs) and redesigning a living room to be more family friendly.
We learn that Elijah was exposed to a lot of "aggressive behavior" before he moved in with Tiffany and Brian. He talks about his love of scary movies and dresses up as a ninja. Characters casually interject God's name about three times, though Leigh Anne also tells Tiffany, "Praise the Lord for you."