Life … Rated


On NBC’s new dramedy This Is Us (which we reviewed this week), parents Rebecca and Jack are going through a difficult spot. They’re trying to raise a trio of 8-year-olds, but Rebecca feels like they’re not doing enough as parents.

“I think we’re at a 6,” she tells Jack. “On a sliding scale of 1 through 10, I think we’re at a 6. And I think I’m being generous. And the thing is, I’m trying really hard to get us to a 9. Because they are cute kids and they deserve 9 parents.”

Then she adds, “The thing is, I’m there, Jack. I feel like I’m operating at a 9.” After all, she’s making the lunches. She’s helping with homework. When Jack’s at the bar, she’s tucking them in. “When you’re home, and you’re you, you’re way better than I am,” she tells her husband. “You’re a 10 when you’re you, Jack.”

It’s a small moment in a new show, but one that struck me.

We live in a world where everything carries some sort of rating. We’re graded in school. We’re rated at work. When we play videogames, we get a score. When we try to decide what movies we’re going to watch, we often check a litany of measurements: the MPAA rating. Rotten Tomato’s “freshness” rating. Plugged In’s plugs. At any given moment, we can know where everything ranks in relation to something … except, perhaps, in the things that really matter.

I have a friend who periodically asks his kids to grade him as a father. An A? B? D? They typically give him As and Bs, but he admits that, sometimes, he feels like his kids are too generous. They’re grading him on a curve.

My kids are grown now, but I don’t think I ever asked them for feedback on how I was doing as a father. I never asked for a grade. I never thought about it at the time. I don’t think I can ask even now.

But I’m frightened that I failed them in some way.

How am I doing as a father? A son? A husband? A friend? A Christian? If I’d imagine my soul being weighed on some cosmic scale like the ancient Egyptians used to picture, I think I’d always be a little light. Sometimes, somedays, I think I do OK. But even on my good days, I could do more. I’m never a 10. Never. There’s always room for improvement.

But ratings are tricky business, especially in life. Maybe, in some cosmic scorekeeping system,  I’d get an A for scintillating dinner conversation, but then snag an F for picking up the dishes afterward. Maybe I get an 8 for showing compassion to my son in one conversation, but earn just a 3 for offering helpful advice in the very same talk.

I love that my friend asks his kids for grades. Ratings can be helpful. They can be useful tools. But they never give you full insight into what you’re doing right and wrong. They never give you the whole picture. There are too many variables. Too many categories.

That’s why I’m so grateful for grace. I’m so grateful that God forgives me when I so often fall short. I’m so thankful that my family does, too. I need that grace. I’d be lost without it.

We’re in the business of rating things here at Plugged In. Every movie we review comes with anywhere from zero to five plugs on it, depending on how family friendly it is. We’ve got colors, too, to help you further weigh your entertainment choices for different age levels. If you listen to our fearless leader Bob Waliszewski on the radio, you’ll know that those ratings are beginning to appear on our other reviews, too.

And that’s just fine. Again, these ratings can be very helpful tools.

But what do you do with a movie such as Birth of a Nation—a story chock-full of Scripture and worthy of serious thought, but a movie with nudity and extreme, wince-inducing violence? What do we do with a movie like Storks—a mostly inoffensive, pretty sweet cartoon with a couple of split-second, easily-missed nods to same-sex relationships? What about This Is Us—a show that has far too much language and sex to recommend, but nevertheless triggered this whole blog post?

We at Plugged In struggle with those ratings. We debate them, argue about them, and eventually we come to a decision and put something down that, collectively, we think is fair … even when we know it might not give you the whole story.

Everyone on the Plugged In team deals, on some level, with that tension. I feel that tension in every review. I’m fine reporting what’s in a movie … but to judge a story for its imperfections (and ratings, of course, are an explicit judgment), when my own story is often so imperfect, it’s difficult for me. It’s one thing for me to tell you what’s there. It’s another for me to tell you what to do about it.

I’m really happy that you’re part of our community. I’m glad you come to us for a little entertainment-based guidance on occasion. I know that your time is precious, and that perhaps you don’t always have time to read through a 2,000-word review. Sometimes, a quick check of the plugs and the colors is all you can manage.

But however you use our site, I’d encourage you to remember that our ratings are simply tools—and like any tool, their effectiveness depends on how you use them.


Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

B Evans More than 1 year ago
Actually, getting a "light" reading of your heart in the Ancient Egyptian scales of the Underworld is a good thing - if your heart is heavier than the Feather of Truth, than it is eaten and your soul ceases to exist. A light heart is good news ;)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Posted by First Comment Guy

It is indeed a wonderful thing to have grace from God. I can't tell you how many times I've failed God, with Him still loving me.

It happened about a month ago in college when I was in my English class and realized that I didn't read a section in my book that we were writing about in class that day. Boy was I doomed. Due to my lack of complete homework, my score in English went downhill fast.

It was then that I remembered that I hadn't read my Bible that morning. I realized that I was a little too self dependent, and that God deserves all of my attention. I now have a more enriched relationship with God, now that I remember that without him, I am nothing.

I'm still trying to bring my score back up, by making sure all of my homework is done and double checking the homework page. It isn't as high as I'd like it to be, but it's isn't as low as it used to be.

Kal El More than 1 year ago
Speaking of rating stuff, I was wondering recently if PluggedIn ever plans to add a  more in depth 'was this review helpful' to its app. I've experienced all three possible reactions to a review (yes, no, and not sure), but all I can do is click a yes or no and moves on. It'd be cool if there was a little more in depth option for those who wanted it, like...

'was this review helpful?'
Yes/no/not sure
'How would you rate this review?'
1-5 plugs
'Do you have any additional comments or questions?'
Comment box

The simple yes/no makes me picture somebody sits at a computer and tallied the answers now and then and says 'he we got 26 'yes's! We must be doing good work! Ok, we got 17 'no's. Well, that doesn't really matter.' And they never learn what the readership actually thought and why. What did the reviewer nail for the reader? Where did he miss the boat or leave questions unanswered?

Anyway, that's my two cents.
pluggedin More than 1 year ago
We appreciate the honest feedback, Kal El! We will definitely keep that in mind as we consider future updates to the app. In the meantime, we definitely want you (and everyone) to feel free to give us feedback on our myriad reviews via email ( or direct messages on Facebook. We know it's an extra step, but we are always glad to receive constructive feedback.
seraph_unsung More than 1 year ago
I really do like your idea in concept, but you'd also need some sort of safeguard to keep certain people from yelling, "Why did you even bother to review this filth??" and calling that "feedback."  Remember the "we're going to bother to review Fifty Shades" controversy?
seraph_unsung More than 1 year ago
As someone who also writes movie reviews  for a personal blog and doesn't bother with arbitrary review scores, I can understand firsthand how difficult and sometimes futile it is to simply a complex opinion into an easy-to-digest-en-masse score.  What do you indeed do for a product that bundles a bunch of good ideas with a bunch of really bad ones?  What does an organization in your position do when faced with an artistically grand work of fiction with negative moral content or vice versa, such as an ugly adult work that makes important statements about crime and racism, or an ordinary children's cartoon that rises above crude humor but simply isn't aesthetically well made? takes the practical option and gives two scores, one moral and one artistic (e.g., ).

Personally if you find a situation where a movie or game is too complex to reduce to a simple rating, then don't use a rating.  Explain to people that no rating felt appropriate, and invite them to take the time to read the whole of the review that you made the effort to write.  I don't write long posts just so people can skip to the end, look at a number, and move on, and I don't think you should have to either if you feel and know that that's not doing an artistic work any favors.  Plugged In once wrote of Saving Private Ryan, "As family-night entertainment, "Ryan" is a casualty. But as a morality tale underscoring the horror of armed combat, it accomplishes its mission brilliantly." ( ) I think the only way to give a fair "rating" or score would be to review the message, the aesthetic quality, and the content depictions (gore, innuendo, profanity) separately.

I've seen it done on another movie website -- one score for movie-making skill and another score for adherence to traditional Christian values (e.g., the site loved "Avatar's" aesthetics but hated the film's morality), and while that's a possible option, the bigger issue is that you clearly write your reviews so that people understand WHY you feel a film deserves to be analyzed a certain way, and a 3/10 or what have you will never tell the full story.  Best wishes!