Commentary

What Families Should – And Should Not – Watch on TV This Fall

By Christopher Gildemeister | September 27, 2019 | 3:36pm EDT
(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

The fall broadcast TV season offers several upbeat, quality programs with positive messages for family audiences … and several far from ideal for families.

Every year, the PTC attends the Paley Center for Media’s Fall TV Preview event, during which some of the new TV programs premiering in fall are shown. We then offer our evaluation of the new shows, particularly which programs are safe for families and children, and which parents should be certain their children avoid. Here are PTC’s top three picks for Best and Worst series of fall 2019.

BEST

“Mixed-ish” on ABC

This spin-off prequel to ABC’s popular series “Black-ish” focuses on the unusual childhood of medical doctor/wife/mom Rainbow Johnson. Set in the 1980s, the program opens with 12-year-old Rainbow living in a commune with her parents. When the commune is raided by police, the family moves in with Bow’s grandfather. The stage is set for fish-out-of-water comedy, as Rainbow and her siblings must navigate being bi-racial and non-material with their new life in suburbia, complete with indoor plumbing, television, shopping malls, and fitting in at public school.

The pilot episode of Mixed-ish was devoid of any offensive words, depictions, or descriptions. Much like it’s predecessor Black-ish, parents can expect this show to have some episodes that focus on controversial topics that some parents may or may not find appropriate. But overall, Mixed-ish seems a bit more light-hearted and draws from a different decade, and will be able to mirror the issues we are still dealing with today through nostalgic lenses.

“Mixed-is”h premiered Tuesday, September 24 at 9:00 p.m. on ABC.

“Bob ♥ Abishola” on CBS

When businessman Bob is hospitalized with a near-fatal heart attack, he awakens to the sight of Abishola, his Nigerian immigrant nurse. Charmed and impressed by Abishola’s kindness and humor, Bob begins courting her – to the surprise of his own family, and the amazement and distrust of Abishola’s. Will Bob’s determination overcome the suspicion of their families … and Abishola’s own doubts?

“Bob  ♥ Abishola” is a delightful program, about two extremely different people, from radically different places and walks of life, coming together, learning about each other, and falling in love. It’s also rare for a TV comedy to focus on middle-aged people (Bob is explicitly stated to be in his 50s), particularly on them finding love later in life. At a time when so much of TV “comedy” revolves around conflict within families and between people who are different, it is refreshing and a positive joy to find a program that provides a gentle lesson in how people with differences can learn to get along, and even to love.

“Bob ♥Abishola” premiered Monday, September 23 at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS.

“All Rise” on CBS

Lola Carmichael, formerly a star prosecutor for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, is now LA’s newest judge; but Lola finds that along with the prestige of her position come plenty of problems. Lola is intimidated by her new professional circle, irked by her pushy, sarcastic assistant Sherri, and depressed at the distancing of her close friendship with her fellow DA Mark Callen, whom she can no longer confide in and must keep at arm’s length. Most of all, Lola is challenged by her new role: learning to temper justice with mercy, and balance her passion for convicting lawbreakers with a concern for the rights of the accused.

While legal dramas have been commonplace on TV since “Perry Mason,” a series following a new judge’s difficulty in adapting to a changed role is an innovative one. In addition to an impressive roster of actors (including “CSI’s” Marg Helgenberger) and an unusual premise, and with little explicit content (violent, sexual, or otherwise), “All Rise” had little content to concern parents – and promises some compelling storytelling.

“All Rise” premiered Monday, September 23 at 9:00 p.m. ET on CBS.

WORST

“Prodigal Son” on Fox

When Malcolm Whitly was a little boy, he discovered that his father Martin was “the Surgeon,” a sadistic serial killer responsible for 23 murders. Malcolm turned his father in, but continued to visit – and learn from — Martin throughout childhood and into his years studying psychology at Harvard. Now, Malcolm walks a tightrope between his work with the police and the dark world of his father, who repeatedly tells Malcolm, “There’s so much more I can teach you about murder … because we’re the same, you and I.”

Just when viewers thought TV’s fascination with glorifying serial killers (“Dexter,” “Hannibal,” “The Following,” “Bates Motel,” “Stalker,” “Aquarius,” “Scream Queens,” and others) was at an end, here comes yet another show seeking to “entertain” viewers with sick, psychopathic sadism. And, like its sister series, “Prodigal Son” doesn’t stint on the gore: in the first episode alone, viewers see dozens of severed heads pickled in glass jars by a killer; several people bloodily shot to death; a slow-motion re-enaction of a murder by lethal injection; multiple references to BDSM, “doms and subs,” and torture; and the program’s hero Malcolm saving an innocent victim from an exploding bomb … by chopping off the victim’s hand with an axe. (The victim’s bloody stump and severed hand are repeatedly shown.) Also, the show’s themes of child abuse, with the killer still manipulating his son even into adulthood, are notably darker than those found on other shows, where the killer was opposed by a cop with no personal ties to him. Parents are warned that the dark, bloody, and deeply disturbing content in “Prodigal Son” is not appropriate for children or teens.

“Prodigal Son” premiered Monday, September 23 at 9:00 p.m. ET on Fox.

“Nancy Drew” on CW

“I don’t go searching in the dark anymore. Not after the darkness found me.”  So says 18 year-old Nancy Drew. Though an amateur sleuth as a teenager, Nancy has turned away from solving mysteries and become despondent after the recent death of her mother. Refusing to enter college, Nancy prefers to work as a waitress at a diner in her hometown of Horseshoe Bay. But when a wealthy heiress is murdered, Nancy is once again drawn into a web of mystery and intrigue … including genuine encounters with the supernatural.

Since 1930, the adventures of girl detective Nancy Drew have been a beloved part of childhood for millions of girls. But this new series is “Nancy Drew” in name only, featuring heaping amounts of gratuitous teenage sex; the very first time viewers see the present-day Nancy Drew in the new series, Nancy and Ned Nickerson are having wild, bed-rocking sex. Subsequent dialogue makes it clear that Nancy and Ned have just met, and that sex is all that interests Nancy. The other familiar characters from the Nancy Drew milieu have also shed their innocence. Tomboy George is now Nancy’s old enemy from high school, and is having an affair with a millionaire suspected of murdering his wife, while Ned Nickerson is now a convicted killer who did prison time while still a minor. The series also embraces the occult, with seances and actual ghosts being a prominent part of the new program. Parents – especially mothers who read Nancy Drew themselves as girls – are warned to keep this version of “Nancy Drew” far from their own daughters.

“Nancy Drew” premieres Wednesday, October 9 at 9:00 p.m. ET on the CW.

“Bless The Harts” on Fox

Jenny Hart, a single mother supporting her family working as a waitress, her lottery scratcher-obsessed mother Betty, her anime-obsessed daughter Violet, and Jenny’s hanger-on boyfriend Wayne form a Southern family that is always broke and forever struggling to make ends meet.

Stuffed with tired “Southern redneck” cliches, “Bless The Harts” is essentially a rip-off of “King of the Hill,” thrown in the blender with “Family Guy” and a little of the absurdity of the late, unlamented “Son of Zorn” (which, not coincidentally, was produced by the same team as “Bless The Harts”). The resulting concoction is one guaranteed to nauseate the consumer. Featuring zero characterization, plentiful profanity, and tasteless appearances of a beer-swilling Jesus Christ, who appears in person to mock Jenny at her restaurant, the Last Supper, “Bless the Harts” also features shoddy artwork, nonsensical cutaways, and a script utterly lacking in comedy. The program does boast voices by the likes of Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph; but such talent is utterly wasted when the characters are given nothing funny to say. Using talented voice artists on “Bless the Harts” is like putting a silk bow on a cowpie.

“Bless The Harts” premieres Sunday, September 29 at 9:30 p.m. ET on Fox.

Dr. Christopher Gildemeister is head of research operations for the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. (www.ParentsTV.org) Twitter: @ThePTC

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