‘The Baxters’ asks an important question about religion and marriage

4 mins read
Credit: Prime Video/Patrick McElhenney

A new, faith-driven family drama is examining the relationship between faith and marriage, especially when that marriage is tested.

“Love is a choice,” Cassidy Gifford, who stars in the new show, “The Baxters,” said of what she hopes viewers learn. “In any relationship, you are going to have ups and downs, you are going to have trials and tribulations, and you are going to be tested — but, I think, particularly in a marriage.”

“At the end of the day, it is making a choice,” she repeated. “Not even just once a day, but it’s over and over and over again — to choose to love one another and to be faithful to one another and to trust one another and to speak truth to one another.”

Cassidy, together with her mother, television host Kathie Lee Gifford, and actress and producer Roma Downey spoke with Our Sunday Visitor about their roles in “The Baxters” ahead of the March 28 release on Prime Video. The show, based on the “Redemption” book series from bestselling author Karen Kingsbury, follows the Baxter family — Elizabeth (Downey) and John (Ted McGinley) with their five adult children — through the joys and struggles of life. The first season focuses on daughter Kari (Ali Cobrin), who turns to God and her family for help after discovering that her husband is having an affair.

Marriage from a Christian point of view

The show explores marriage and love from a Christian perspective by presenting a choice. Kari’s husband, Tim (Brandon Hirsch), wants a divorce, and her well-meaning family initially encourages her to also pursue a divorce. For her part, Kari wants to save her marriage. And, even though she falters along the way when encountering an ex-boyfriend, she never stops trying.

While the first season centers on Kari’s marriage, Downey and the Giffords highlighted the marriage of the Baxter parents as a model for viewers. These couples aren’t examples because they’re perfect; instead, they stand out because they always end up relying on God and each other through the struggle.

“It’s okay that you are going to struggle in that, it’s not easy,” Cassidy wanted viewers to realize. “I think that is very much God’s design, because then you do need to lean on him to make those choices.”

Looking at marriage and family

Downey, who is perhaps most famous for her role in the television series “Touched by an Angel” (1994-2003), serves as an executive producer and stars as the Baxter family’s mother in “The Baxters.”

Credit: Prime Video/Joshua Applegate

“We get to see, at the center of this drama, a very strong and loving and prayerful marriage,” Downey said of her own character’s marriage. “They’re a couple that rely on each other, they love their children, they worry about their children, like most parents do.”

She called the Baxter parents the “glue” that holds the family together.

“They’re not afraid in a time of worry or crisis,” she said, “to hold each other’s hands and to pray in it.”

The show not only focuses on family, but also stars families: In addition to including the Giffords, Downey’s daughter, Reilly Anspaugh, plays one of her character’s daughters in the show.

Embracing the imperfect in family life

The characters in general, according to Downey and the Giffords, are regular people with regular issues.

“Nobody wants to see perfect people living a perfect life because you can’t relate to it,” Downey said. “These are broken people, but people who love each other.”

“My heart is in this space in the entertainment industry of telling stories of hope,” she emphasized, “of telling stories that inspire and uplift, but that are real.”

Kathie, who has known Downey as a dear friend since they acted in “Touched by an Angel,” revealed that people will see family members who struggle and always love each other even if they don’t always like each other.

Finding family through the love of God

Viewers who don’t have a family — or never had a family like the Baxters — can still learn from the show, she added.

“I think what they’re going to learn is that even if they didn’t and don’t have that, that it’s still possible to have a family with God,” she said.

She identified God as a father: “Even the Bible calls him ‘Abba,’ which really means ‘Daddy,'” she said of the familiar, loving term.

While she recognized that many people see God as scary, she stressed his unconditional love.

Credit: Prime Video/Patrick McElhenney 

“We may not have been loved in this life and in this world and we carry around a lot of hurts and despair from that, but he loves us,” she said. “He loves us with an all-consuming fire of a love that nothing can ever change.”

“Family looks like a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” she added at another point. “But if God is in the midst of it, you will have everything you need for a joyful life.”

The Baxters know to go to God, she said.

“Some of them have to be dragged there,” she acknowledged. “They know their struggles, they know their problems, but they also know where to go for the source of the help that they need.”

Drawing inspiration from Catholicism

Downey, who has dedicated her career to a slew of faith-friendly shows and movies from “The Bible” (2013) and “Son of God” (2014) to “Ben-Hur” (2016) and “On a Wing and a Prayer” (2023), called her Catholic background an important part of who she is today.

Raised Catholic in Ireland, she received an education from the Sisters of Mercy, she told Our Sunday Visitor. Her oldest brother, Father John Downey, served as a parish priest for decades in Ireland before passing away last year.

“My father had us on our knees every night on the linoleum saying the Rosary,” she said of her upbringing. “My mother died when I was very young. … [I]f we hadn’t had our faith to lean into for comfort and strength, I don’t know how we would have gotten through that.”

She still keeps her father’s rosary, she said, next to her bed.

Today, she identifies more as a nondenominational Christian. She and her husband, who is nondenominational Christian, go back and forth between Mass and another service in their community.

“We love the Lord, so we’re trying to create work that glorifies God in what we do,” she said, adding that she’s a member of The Papal Foundation, which is dedicated to serving the Holy Father and the Church, and has even met the pope a few times.

Introducing a show for the Easter season

Downey hoped that “The Baxters” would deepen viewers’ faith during the Easter season.

“There’s an invitation to come home to the church at Easter time and I think that ‘The Baxters’ is part of that invitation,” she stressed.

At the heart of the show, she said at another point, is a reminder that “we belong to each other.”

“Let’s remember that we love each other and that we’re a family and then, through church, a greater family,” she said. “That’s my hope.”

Katie Yoder

Katie Yoder is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.