Regardless of which way you voted in the recent presidential election, most of us can agree that we'd rather avoid the following TV-watching scenarios:
There you are, sitting on the couch with your 6-year-old nephew and 67-year-old dad, when suddenly Joey Tribbiani's sister asks the "Friends" exile to feel her breasts. Or, flipping over to VH1 in search of a mind-less list show, you come across a nearly naked Brigitte Nielson on "Surreal Life," and soon the romping Swede is locked in an ickily suggestive embrace with one of her housemates. Or, after a passing glimpse at "The O.C.," your nephew adds a new and colorful word to his vocabulary, one that you're going to have a hard time explaining to his mom.
Or how about this: You check out "Third Watch," where detectives discover the naked body of a dead girl among the trash in a Dumpster, or you sample any of the "C.S.I.s," where severed body parts and kinky crimes (clown fetishes?) are more common than hors d'oeuvres at a holiday party.
It's not really a stretch to say that we're living in a TV environment that inundates viewers with sexual situations and innuendoes, casual profanity and an astonishing range of violence. Even the relatively gore-free and admirably watchable "NCIS" has featured loving close-ups of severed limbs, and it's nearly impossible to find a network sitcom that doesn't make an offhand reference or 20 to sex (in most cases because the writers have nothing truly funny to say).
And while I'll staunchly make the case that programs featuring blood, sex and swear words can make for worthy TV entertainment, the fact is, that's not the sort of thing I want to sit down and watch with any middle schooler I know.
There are a few more-or-less guaranteed family-friendly shows on network TV. In the scripted realm, there's "Joan of Arcadia" and "7th Heaven" and in the unscripted genre, "American Idol" and "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" are guaranteed crowd-pleasers.
But if you're in search of more family-friendly programs -- shows the whole family can watch without risk of a risque hot tub scene, naughty words or grisly violence -- we have a few suggestions.
We channel-surfed to come up with our list of best family shows
Whether or not you're concerned about "moral values" or what those "Desperate Housewives" are up to, or whether you've ever been tempted to call the FCC to register a complaint about what's transpiring on your TV screen, chances are, at some point in your TV-watching life, you've wished you had at your disposal a list of programs that won't make you blush in front of your dad.
This is our list, one we compiled after ranging far and wide through the TV schedule for overlooked gems. The Family Friendly Programming Forum compiles its own list for its Family Television Awards presentation. This year's 6th annual awards took place last week, honoring "Joan of Arcadia" for best drama and "Everybody Loves Raymond" for best comedy.
But we'd love to hear what your favorite family-friendly fare is: E-mail your suggestions to email@example.com, and we'll post the best responses at chicagotribune.com/tribtv.
One final note: This is not a list of good TV for kids (and please don't e-mail suggestions along those lines). There are a ton of great shows out there right now for young kids, tweens and even older kids. What we've listed here are shows that are entertaining and perhaps even thought-provoking for all manner of kids, teens and adults.
Note: The times and days listed below denote when new episodes usually air, but many shows, especially cable programs, repeat several times a week. Consult your TV listings for additional airings of these programs.
BEST SCRIPTED DRAMA
"American Dreams" (7 p.m. Sundays, NBC): Before you fire off that e-mail, we already know that this NBC show has an unwed mother in its cast. But the thoughtful "Dreams' " greatest strength is its ability to take seriously the moral decisions faced by members of the Walker and Pryor families, who are struggling to maintain their composure and even find some prosperity as the turbulent '60s unfold. It's refreshing in this age of knee-jerk cynicism that on "Dreams," questions of faith aren't played for laughs or stripped of their complexity (in a recent episode, Patty Pryor asked a nun at her school how Pryor could become a saint, and, perhaps by doing so, help bring her missing-in-action brother home from Vietnam. Even the nun was a bit flummoxed by that one). And the music education that younger folk will get from seeing current-day music idols re-create vintage "American Bandstand" performances by the likes of Fontella Bass, Aretha Franklin and Peggy Lee is a big bonus.
BEST REALITY SHOW
"Cold Turkey" (9 p.m. Tuesdays, PAX): This reality show features many of the familiar staples of the genre: a group of residents living together in a funky mansion, personality clashes and parties by the pool (though, thankfully, there's no hot tub). But the participants gathered together on PAX's first high-profile reality series are all trying to kick smoking, not win money or find a mate. Their struggle to lose that habit is compelling, as well as a modest hit with viewers (a new season of "Turkey," which finishes its first run on Tuesday, has been ordered for next year). Sure, you can ask family members to steer clear of smoking, but it might be more effective to have them tune in to the gripping episode where the "Turkey" group meets a woman with advanced lung cancer.
BEST HISTORICAL REALITY SHOWS
"Colonial House," "1900 House," "Manor House," "Regency House Party," "Frontier House" (no repeats currently scheduled, but all are available on DVD, PBS): These addictive series did more than just give the reality-TV genre a veneer of class, they've also been terrific sources of stealth education. You don't have to read one Jane Austen novel (well, you should, but let's move on) to be a total expert on the Regency era; just pay close attention to the information given out by the narrator of "RHP" and you'll be more than ready for your next country-house get-together. These series not only boast terrific production values, they also shed light on many thought-provoking social issues: Through them, you might just learn a bit about agriculture, about history or about the evolution of the role of women in Western society. Take that, "Real World"!
BEST ANIMAL SHOW
"Emergency Vets" (3 p.m. weekdays, Animal Planet): Though the various animal-cop shows on this network regularly tug our heartstrings (and prompt us to reach into our wallets and make a donation to animal rescue groups), they might be a bit too trying for the very youngest viewers, who won't understand why some people mistreat their pets. Even better for the whole family is this compelling series, which follows animals and their humans through various medical adventures. Oh, the stories those animal docs can tell! Truly, the "ER" crew has nothing on them.
BEST COOKING SHOW
"Barefoot Contessa" (11:30 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Food Network): Unlike other cooking shows, which feature recipes that are deceptively difficult or hosts that seem more focused on showmanship than on instruction, Ina Garten, the Contessa of the title, offers a warm, reassuring presence whose voice is as soothing as the comfort food she so expertly prepares. When everyone in the family is too wound up, try a dose of the "Contessa," which may just go down like a cup of calming hot cocoa.
BEST ART & ANTIQUES SHOW
"Find!" (9:30 p.m. Fridays, PBS): Leigh and Leslie Keno of "Antiques Roadshow" lend their considerable talents to this zippy, extremely charming show, which has the knowledgeable twin brothers visiting the homes of collectors across the country in order to appraise their family treasures. In the show's second season, decorator Alexa Hampton has joined the program; she chimes in with tips on how to integrate antiques into your own decor, advice that should go down well with the home-design addicts of any age. The Keno brothers are the real "find" here; their enthusiasm for art, antiques, furniture and life is palpable, and impossible not to enjoy.
BEST HOME-IMPROVEMENT SHOW
"How Clean Is Your House?" (10 p.m. Mondays, Lifetime): You've asked your kids to clean their rooms a million times, but maybe they'll get the message when they see what kind of bacteria can lurk in those aging bags of Doritos hiding under the bed. Kim Woodburn and Aggie MacKenzie are the best kind of hosts for this show: They're commanding but not off-putting, and with their silly personalities, the "Grime Ministers" manage to make tidying seem positively fun. And of course this show offers that reality-TV staple -- the pleasure and even slightly smug superiority we feel when we see that other people's houses (or lives) are even more chaotic than ours.
"Motormouth" (10 a.m. Thursdays and 10:30 p.m. Sundays, VH1): One thing that everyone in this politically divided nation can agree on: Nobody's mom can actually sing on key in the car (OK, we'll make an exception for Celine Dion, but only after we see videotaped proof). This hilarious show, in which willing accomplices help the "Motormouth" masterminds plant several hidden cameras all over the victim's car, showcases more than its share of off-key moms (our favorite moment showed a son cowering in shame at his mom's head-banging accompaniment to a Metallica song), but friends turn each other's bum pipes in too. This light-hearted show leads us to the inescapable conclusion that most Americans think they have the vocal chops of Alicia Keys or Christina Aguilera (note to most Americans: You don't).
BEST ADVENTURE SHOW
"No Opportunity Wasted" (7 p.m. Thursdays, Discovery): Phil Keoghan, host of "The Amazing Race," is the creator and host of this engaging show, on which he helps average Joes and Janes realize their fondest wishes. The twist is, participants have a limited budget and a limited time frame in which to live their dreams (one avid scuba fan had one weekend and a few hundred bucks to spend on confronting his fear of diving with sharks). It helps if you're a fan of Keoghan (and how could you not be?), but even if you're not, this heartwarming, no-glitz show is not a waste of time.
BEST SCIENCE SHOW
"MythBusters" (marathon episodes 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday; otherwise 7 p.m. Sundays, Discovery): This amiable show sets out to prove whether certain urban legends or old wives' tales are actually true (Does it help plants if you talk to them? Actually, yes), and plenty of scientific knowledge is subtly imparted along the way. Plus the funny, personable "MythBusters" crew members get to blow stuff up sometimes (hey, as long as nobody gets hurt, we're in favor of the occasional on-screen explosion). In one case, they tried to prove whether using too many bug bombs could actually blow up a house (we won't ruin that one for you -- you'll have to watch and find out for yourself). Discovery's more bombastic "Monster Garage" gets more hype, but we'll take "MythBusters" any day when it comes to televised tinkering.
BEST COOKING SHOW HOSTED BY AN ENGLISH GUY
"Oliver's Twist" (3:30 a.m. Saturdays, Food Network): Jamie Oliver is a culinary rock star over in England (think Emeril times 10), but over here, he's merely known, quite rightly, for the simply yummy food he whips up on this laid-back Food Network show, which often leaves the confines of Oliver's kitchen to visit pubs, shops and gardens. As the father of two young girls, Oliver is constantly thinking up dishes that will please the small folk as well as delight adults, an important consideration in many households. But regardless of how much you like toiling in the kitchen, Oliver's adventurous spirit and sensual enjoyment of all things food-related are inspiring.
BEST GENRE SHOWS
"Stargate SG-1," "Stargate Atlantis" (8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Fridays, Sci Fi): "SG-1," one of the most consistently enjoyable scripted shows on TV, in or out of the sci-fi genre, has resolutely avoided entangling its two lead characters (played by Richard Dean Anderson and Amanda Tapping) in a romantic relationship for eight seasons now. Not that we're against romance, but the core of this show are the thoughtful friendships among all of the talented leads and the thwarting of evil plots by interstellar baddies. Who knows, there may be more romance on the new spinoff, "Atlantis," but we like how the writers for both shows avoid overindulging in the sci-fi television cliche of studly Earthly explorers constantly romancing scantily clad space babes.
"Reba" (8 p.m. Fridays, WB): There's nothing new about this WB sitcom -- it slavishly follows most current sitcom conventions, which dictate annoying neighbors and sassy kids -- but so what? It's impossible not to like star Reba McEntire, who grounds the whole endeavor with her warm, endearing personality. If only every sitcom had such a well-intentioned heart and such a charismatic star, the whole genre wouldn't be in the trouble it's in now.
BEST HOME-REPAIR SHOW
"This Old House Classics" (7 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, HGTV): The granddaddy of all home-improvement shows, old school "This Old House" is for kids and adults who've already seen every episode of "Trading Spaces" 20 times. And this groundbreaking show wasn't just about slapping on a few coats of paint and making a few throw pillows: Watching Bob Vila and Norm Abrams renew the guts of beautiful old houses from crossbeams to floorboards makes us almost want to pick up our own awls (if only we could remember what they're for.)
BEST FASHION SHOW
"What Not to Wear" (6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, BBC America): We know, we know, there's an American version of this British "make-better" show, but we love Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine, the straight-talking, mildly acerbic Brit hosts of this show. This show might be a dud for those who don't love fashion, but the duo have occasionally made over menfolk with excellent results.
We really admire how this program doesn't advocate plastic surgery or hatred for one's body -- working with what you've got is the theme, and these lively ladies teach a whole host of folks, of all shapes and sizes, to do just that.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times