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.

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