Television is a minefield for families. My father, never one to pull his punches, calls it an open sewer of cultural rot. He’s not far off. Promiscuous sex, drug use, adultery, graphic violence — you turn on your television and you’re going to get it all, and most of it is bad. But just try to get your teenagers to watch old reruns of The Andy Griffith Show with you and the family room will empty faster than you can say “X-Box.” Yet shared time together is one of the most valuable gifts you can give your teens. How do you manage some family television time where you can promote the values you want to pass on to your teenagers without boring them to death?
There actually are some great television shows today that promote good values in subtle ways. Not that these shows aren’t rude, violent and outrageous, but hidden in the pop culture flash are powerfully good values and great moments. Please, though, watch them with your teenage kids, and not with your young children or, God forbid, your elderly mom and dad. If you need your family values pure and unsullied by popular culture, feel free to watch re-runs of The Waltons or Little House on the Prairie. But if you want to keep the teens in the room and have some moments where you can share some good values with them, try these:
The premise of Castle, starring Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic, is that of a successful mystery writer (Fillion) who assists a beautiful NYPD homicide detective (Katic) in solving crimes. Now in its sixth season, the show continues to grow and evolve as a great comedy and mystery series.
What values will you share with your teenagers? Rick Castle is a self-made millionaire who takes pleasure in his wealth and is completely unashamed about being a rich man. Though divorced, he is dedicated to his daughter Alexis (Molly Quinn) and supports his mother, who is played to wacky perfection by Susan Sullivan. The writers drop an occasional gem such as the season four episode “Eye of the Beholder,” where a priceless sculpture is stolen and a museum director is found dead. The sculpture is called the “Fist of Capitalism” and when Castle hears the name of the missing item, he asks, deadpan: “Did anyone look in the pocket of Socialism?”
With guest stars including perennial favorite Adam Baldwin and fellow Chuck alumnus Joshua Gomez, this is a show worth spinning up on Netflix to watch from the beginning. There are plenty of beautiful women and hunky guys as eye-candy, convoluted plots, and some fairly gruesome murder scenes, all of which will keep your teens riveted while they absorb the concept that self-made wealth is a good thing and the good guys, not the bad guys, are the glamorous ones. Start with Netflix and catch up to us in Season Six, Mondays on ABC at 10-9C.
2) Sleepy Hollow
American history is boring, until you turn on a show where a giant Hessian soldier gets his freaking head cut off in a Revolutionary War battle, gets up, and keeps on swinging. Sleepy Hollow is about Ichabod Crane, here a British soldier turned American patriot who wakes from an enchanted sleep to fight the Headless Horseman in modern day America.
This unbelievable premise is made completely plausible by stellar writing and a terrific cast including Tom Mison as Crane; Nicole Beharie as Abby Mills, the detective assigned to his case; and Orlando Jones as the police captain. Watch as a newly awakened Crane is horrified to discover a 10% tax on the donut holes his new detective partner buys for him. “We rioted in the streets over 3%!” he exclaims. His devotion to liberty and his loyalty to George Washington, whom we get to see in flashbacks to the American Revolution, is a joy to watch.
The show is supernatural, dark and bloody and therefore, of course, enthralling to your teens. Make sure you ask them constantly if it isn’t too scary for them. There’s nothing like that question to keep them in their seats. Then use the commercial breaks to discuss the real Boston Tea Party, the Revolutionary War, and why these Founding Fathers were willing to die for freedom. How often do you have a chance to do that? Catch episodes on Hulu Plus and then join us on Fox on Mondays at 10/9C. (But tuck the small fry into bed first).
3) How I Met Your Mother
You read that correctly. The show with Barney Stinson, a character who sleeps with women in one-night-stands as a kind of professional sport, the show that spends the majority of the screen time in a bar, is a great show to watch with your teens. Just look at the title. The entire premise of this sit-com is based on a father telling his children how he met their mother.
Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) is on a search for a wife and a family. He is not interested in casual sex or one-night conquests, like his friend Barney. He wants to love one woman and marry her and have children, like his best friends Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel). Ted is hapless and incompetent, falling again and again for the wrong women, but his search for marriage is what the show is all about.
Barney Stinson is a crystal-clear example of what a young man should never aspire to be, and the show is unflinching in showing this. He is loved by his friends because of the flashes of goodness he shows, not because of his single-minded pursuit of sex. His friends are revolted by his male-slut behavior and show it very clearly. How I Met Your Mother is all about finding a spouse, getting married, starting a family, and keeping family relationships strong.
Those are great values to share with your teenagers. Just remember: Rude, raunchy and completely politically incorrect can be a way to communicate great values, if you can put up with the etc. etc. Start with Netflix Season 1 and don’t stop until Season 9, where Ted finally meets his future wife. At last! Catch Season 9 on CBS Mondays at 8-7 C.
4) Once Upon A Time
This sumptuous show is a like a slowly opening rose, every petal intricately positioned with another in a perfect unfolding spiral. Yes, I’m a fan. Your teens are going to love this story, too. Today’s teenagers spent a lot of their childhood television time in front of one Disney fairy tale or another, unless you raised them without a VCR or television time. If you did that, you’re amazing. But for the rest of us, this show captures a wonderful feeling of rediscovery of all these beloved tales, updated to the modern world.
Once Upon A Time begins in Storybrooke, Maine, in an enchanted town where fairy tale characters live unknowing of who they are. Snow White is a shy schoolteacher, Jiminy Cricket is a therapist, and the Evil Queen is the town mayor, among others. The delight of this show is the relationships that evolve in each episode and the fun in picking out our favorite heroes when they show up. “Look, it’s Mulan!” “That’s got to be Cinderella, right?” Our main character, Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), is a hardened bail bondswoman who comes to Storybrooke to discover that her fate is entwined with everyone in town.
Why is this show great for teens? Fairy tales are the most value-based tales of all. Evil is vanquished and good wins. The age-old struggle between doing what’s right and what’s wrong is revealed in every episode, but none of it comes across as preachy medicine. My teenage son told me he thinks Snow White is “awesome” because she is “crazy good, all the time, she always chooses the right thing no matter what, she’s hilarious.”
This Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) is no simpering princess; she and the other female characters are great role models for girls, and the men are great role models for boys. Start with Season 1 on Netflix and catch up to Season 3. We’re now in Neverland, so remember: It’s first star to the right and straight on ’til morning. ABC, Sundays 8/7C.