Review: Shiny Happy People Charts the Downfall of the Duggar Family

The Amazon miniseries examines the Institute in Basic Life Principles, focusing on the Duggar family and its multiple sex abuse scandals.


The Amazon Prime Video documentary miniseries Shiny Happy People examines the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), a Christian fundamentalist group that became famous in the popular TLC show 19 Kids and Counting and its spinoffs.

This miniseries is anchored to the 19-children-strong Duggar family and its multiple sex abuse scandals. But it also provides a comprehensive account of the rise and fall of the IBLP, the extreme patriarchy it prescribes, and its influence within evangelical Christian circles at the turn of the 21st century.

In its best moments, Shiny Happy People illustrates exactly why authoritarianism doesn't deliver the peace and stability its advocates promise. The miniseries shows in careful detail how Bill Gothard, the group's now-disgraced leader, sold impressionable young parents on the IBLP by promising that the key to familial bliss was an unyielding hierarchy with the father at the top and the children, especially girls, at the bottom.

This rarely seemed to create functional, loving families. Instead, unlike more common-variety Christian homeschooling families, it overtly encouraged physical abuse (IBLP parents were directed to severely beat disobedient children) and made sexual abuse easier to hide. A generation of disillusioned children—and a handful of lawsuits—ultimately spelled the group's downfall.