Since 2009, the Parents Television Council has been providing reviews of the new fall season on broadcast TV; and for the first time, the new shows are “less bad” than in previous years. While there are still some sexual references in many new comedies, and some new programs which contain excessive violence, it appears that broadcast TV is finally over its mania for raunchy sex comedies and dramas about serial killers. This provides a note of hope for families, many of whom still value parents and children being able to watch TV together.
One of the best new comedies is ABC’s Cristela. Stand-up comedian Cristela Alonzo stars as a sunny, optimistic, working-class Latina who achieves her life’s dream of being a lawyer, in a tremendously upbeat story of a career woman dealing with family and friends. Black-ish, also from ABC, provides a counterpoint to such past shows as The Jeffersons and The Cosby Show, a wealthy, successful African-American man worries that his family has lost touch with their black roots. The program addresses serious issues of culture and race, but does so with humor.
Fox’s tale of teens facing life-threatening illnesses, Red Band Society, mixes comedy, teen soap opera, and serious drama. The teens presented on the show aren’t paragons; in just the first episode they steal a car, smoke cigarettes and marijuana, lie about their age to buy beer, and use plenty of foul language. At the same time, the program engages in serious discussion of real-life problems like popularity, eating disorders, and first love, as well as literal issues of life and death.
For action lovers, CBS’ Scorpion is a “funcedural” about a group of socially-inept geniuses who solve government crises on a daily basis. The program provides action without graphic violence and makes being smart look cool in a fun show the whole family can enjoy. Finally, CW’s The Flash is a superhero of the old school. Built more around special-effects battles than brutal violence, The Flash is openly optimistic, upbeat, and heroic.
However, there are still problematic shows this fall. In its tale of accidental impregnation, casual (and serial) adultery, and trashing of religion, CW’s Jane the Virgin focuses obsessively on sexual themes in a manner both offensive and over-the-top. NBC’s Constantine blends graphic gore with an occult emphasis on walking corpses and demonic possession. Fox’s Gotham centers on Batman’s sadistic, psychotic villains, but without the heroic presence of Batman to offset the hopeless tone and graphic violence. And the fall’s worst new show, CBS’s Stalker, is a deeply disturbing series centered on terrorized innocents preyed upon by grotesque, ultra-violent psychopaths. But such shows are largely the exception this fall, and it does seem that broadcast TV has taken a slight turn for the better.
Rather than rebelling against broadcast standards and seeking to be just as “edgy” as pay-TV, maybe the broadcast networks should embrace their family-friendly roots, and leave the explicit nudity, graphic violence, and foul language to cable. Judging by this fall’s previews, TV may be moving in this direction – and that’s good news for children and families.