Apr 1, 2015

On watching TV as a family

We try to make watching TV a family activity – but how do you find a good middle ground when everyone has vastly different tastes?

Though science is out on the link between television and ADHD, given that Lee was on ADHD watch at school last year (and though she's not "definitely" ADHD, she's certainly somewhere on the higher end of that spectrum), we do work to limit her TV intake. This means no TV on schoolnights and limited amounts on the weekend. And we're very much about making watching TV a family activity, with a focus on conscious as opposed to half-hearted consumption – though we still sometimes end up on an epic Netflix binge.

That being said, I find few things as uninspiring as children's television and films. I understand shows like Dora the Explorer, Octonauts, Sesame Street, and even Bubble Guppies have educational merit. And My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is definitely less terrible than its previous incarnations. But still – when we do something as a family, it should be something we all enjoy. I, for the record, prefer like sitcoms like Arrested Development and most films directed by Wes Anderson while Nate prefers shows of the Breaking Bad and House of Cards variety.

So what do we actually watch as a family?

It mostly comes down to family fare and – a trickier category – adult-orientated sitcoms.

Family fare for us includes...

Disney animated features
We watch these much more often than everyone in the household who's older than 30 would prefer, but Lee does love them. Nate and I can now recite all of Tangled – and Bambi wasn't as devastating as I remembered (still haven't dared try Dumbo and Fox and Hound though, which just slew me). I draw the line at sequels-that-never-made-it-to-the-theater though.

Horrible Histories
One of my favorite British shows; I actually ended up getting my sisters the DVDs. Sometimes it's a bit too scatological for me, but those parts make Lee laugh out loud – which makes it more than worth it.

Fantasy movies
Including Maleficent and the 2010 Alice in Wonderland version. Lee had to hide under the covers quite a bit for both though...and the poison gas scene in Hunger Games: Catching Fire freaked her out too much.

Period pieces / costume dramas
I'll group family favorite The Sound of Music here, and definitely The King's Speech and Young Victoria – Lee cried at the end scene which reveals that Albert died when he was only 42. (This isn't Nate's preferred film category.)

Occasionally we'll try films like What to Expect When You're Expecting, but...just no.

Sitcoms written for adults

My main concern with letting Lee watch these shows with us is that they do contain a fair amount of swearing and innuendos. BUT Lee's encountered enough mild inappropriateness (again, mostly of the scatological variety that her age group loves) to know that there are some words you shouldn't use, and why you shouldn't use them. And at any rate, I don't want her to end up using inappropriate words because she doesn't know they are inappropriate. I do cover up her eyes and mute during most scenes set in bedrooms, because I'm prudish like that.

So here are some run-downs...

Arrested Development
The reason why we play "Buster and the seal" every time we go to the pool. And there's nothing cuter than a little girl saying "I've made a huuuuge mistake." She likes Buster and George Michael best.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Now a lot of this probably goes over her head, but it's not especially objectionable. And the show's actually a good route to talking about issues like deciding whether to mope or persevere, staying safe, gay rights (like why it's important for Titus to be able to pass as straight), the ennui of the super-rich, and what makes a character stereotypical (DONG).

The Office (US)
One of Lee's favorites – she cheered when Jim kissed Pam, relished their wedding and wants to watch the finale again and again. She sings "Ryan started the fire" with gusto. Michael's behavior is also a good starting point for talking about respecting other people's feelings and being able to read situations and act appropriately...

30 Rock
Full of great gags, plot twists, and comedic timing, and great at subverting sitcom tropes (albeit occasionally just recycling them).

Not exactly my favorite show (too angsty and twee), but Nate and the little one think it's great. And from what I understand it's medically quite accurate, so it has that going for it. Lee's key takeaway: "It can be dangerous when a baby has it's cord wrapped around its neck when it's born. That's what happened to Turk's baby."

Shows and films we've tried but stopped 

Documentaries, especially of the BBC Planet Earth variety
I would actually love to watch these as a family, but Lee thinks they're terribly dull.

Freaks and Geeks
Lee became too upset when Lindsay (Lindsey?) threw eggs at Sam, so that's on ice.

Mad Men
I vet this on an episode-by-episode basis, but it's mostly too dark to watch with the little one. She's a big Sally Draper fan though.

Lee's not terribly interested, though it's something we might try again.

I did NOT remember it being so sweary or explicit...so that stopped after about 5 minutes.

Peep Show
Too bleak.

Too boring (for me).

Lost in Translation
"Nothing happens!"

Hocus Pocus
Too scary.

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Lee likes the episode where four crewmembers are turned into children in a transporter mishap. Otherwise: "too boring" (not to mention preachy and hokey...though I actually think it has strong moral core that I'd be happy for the monkey to be exposed to).

Friends, Modern Family, and How I Met Your Mother are off the table for me because I don't find them especially funny (because 1) I've seen it too many times from too young an age to still find it funny 2) that show is much less progressive than it thinks it is, and about half the plots are based on poor communication, especially between Cam and Mitchell, and 3) though there are some great episodes I find it a bit of a slog overall)...though Lee does like watching them with my sisters.

And what about Wes Anderson movies? Lee loves the dalmatian mice in The Royal Tenenbaums, but isn't allowed to see or even know about the scene where Richie tries to slice his wrists. Rushmore gives us a lot to talk about in terms of what makes a good student, and we discuss how Max is a strong entrepreneur but a poor scholar, but also required an emphatic conversation about how the word "fuck" is even more rude than the poo song (which is basically Lee trying to be shocking by singing "Poo poo poo / poo poo poo / poo poo poo" and then giggling hysterically...something which has fortunately abated over the last months). She likes the psychedelic seahorses and mocking dolphins in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou but already felt so sad at Alistair Hennessey's turtles being eaten as soup (but: one survived!) that I couldn't bear to show her Ned's death...though I think the film handles death and grieving very well, so it's definitely one to revisit.

Bottom line? I think most kids can handle a certain amount of "non-kids" TV, but it needs to be contextualized and, to a certain extent, censored. And it definitely needs to be tailored to the child. We also still pursue our own interests separately: Nate will watch American Horror Story when the little one's in bed and I'll watch the odd indie film on my phone when I can't sleep – and Lee watches Octonauts and ilk at my in-laws. So it's a compromise between individual tastes and...compromising.

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