If your family is like ours, television is a rarity in our house. We gave up cable television years ago, but we stream movies on the weekends and can “earn” a television program or two during the week for good behavior (adults and children alike).
But now that COVID-19 is keeping us all at home all day and every night, there is greater demand than ever for “Family TV.” Believe it or not, there are some good options that are both entertaining and appropriate for children.
We have become very serious fans of The Great British Baking Show, and a new discovery is the television network produced by Brigham Young University, BYU-TV. It is a font of totally family-friendly fare. Our favorite program is Show-Offs, featuring a team of improv actors and special guests who are given script ideas from a studio audience. I have always loved improv, but it seems always to be geared to the raunchier side of things (where the cheapest laughs are). But this show is 100 percent “appropriate”—our family’s watchword—and the actors are really talented. It routinely has us in stitches. We also love Studio C, a sketch comedy team similar to Saturday Night Live, but totally clean and appropriate for all audiences. Our teen and tween daughters love Dwight in Shining Armor about a teen boy who travels back in time and returns with a posse of hilarious medieval friends. There are a dozen others. BYU-TV is the only network our children are allowed to surf freely. All great shows, all “appropriate,” no commercials. And for anyone who may be wondering, we have not seen any proselytizing of the LDS faith.
We research movies, old and new, and watch them as a family. Recent movies that we have watched and enjoyed include oldies like Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock, and new movies like Midway (lots of obscenities, but in context it was tolerable). We have 12 Angry Men ready to go, and Bird Man of Alcatraz. We also highly recommend anything with Rowan Atkinson, from his Mr. Bean features (my favorite is Mr. Bean’s Holiday, I could watch it every week) to Johnny English. We howl with family laughter.
My go-to review sites are Movie Guide and Dove, and I check both each time. Why? Because even the best review team can miss things, so you have to be vigilant. Generally, we have been happy with their reviews. They are very detailed, going beyond counting obscenities and profanities and describing violence and nudity to explaining storyline ethos and underlying messaging, with scene-based evidence to back up their conclusions. But once they both let us down. We like musicals, and were excited about watching the award-winning new musical, Lala Land. I read the reviews carefully, and thought I knew what to expect: some language, no nudity, no sex, no violence. Fine. Yet, as we watched, the two young lovers crawled into bed together. They were clothed. They only talked. But then, flash, it is the next morning, and they are sitting on the bed. Sorry kids, let’s turn on BYU-TV. (Movie Guide has revised its review to include a more detailed discussion of this scene.)
One service that has met with mixed reviews in our household is Vid Angel. I love it, my husband does not. For a low monthly fee, you can calibrate each movie that you stream to your family’s standards, based on that particular movie’s details. The service allows you to filter content in dozens of areas of concern, including language, violence, sexual content, and drug and alcohol use. You can literally take a PG-13 movie and turn it into a slightly shorter, sloppily-spliced G movie. Our first try with Vid Angel was hilarious. We rented Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing and just set all filters to ON. We watched it, or tried to watch, as it abruptly skipped from scene to scene like it had a terminal case of the hiccups. We realized, upon investigation, that a cleavage filter was responsible for much of the 30 minutes that were cut from the movie! If missing elements of plot and watching herky-jerky scene splicing are a problem for you (they are not for me, but they are for my husband), then this service is not for you. Another problem is the absence of Disney, or the “Evil Mouse” as we call it. The service does not work with any of the hugely-popular Disney-produced movies due to a protracted copyright lawsuit Disney slapped on Vid Angel. (Hey Evil Mouse, why don’t you just make your movies family-friendly and we won’t have to use this service!)
So, life is strange right now, but let’s look on the bright side. We all have more time to spend with our families, and with some attention and planning, that time can include the joy of watching good television, together.