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The Best Family-Friendly Shows on TV — IndieWire Critics Survey

TV critics weigh in on which shows they'd watch with kids... or their parents, for that matter.

"One Day at a Time," "The Simpsons," "Speechless"

“One Day at a Time,” “The Simpsons,” “Speechless”

Netflix, Fox, ABC

IWCriticsPick

Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)

This week’s question: What is the best family-friendly show of the past or current TV season? Live-action, animated, talk, documentary, all genres are fair game.

Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter

I believe we’ve learned by now that the answer to all questions can be either “The Simpsons” or “Method & Red” and since this question calls for a current show, “The Simpsons” would be a truly valid answer, with its mixture of multi-tiered cultural literacy and a consistently sophisticated approach to family unity, faith and community. And I, as always, reject any snide, “That show hasn’t been good for 15 years” criticisms.

But I don’t think that’s my real answer, though my real answer or answers relate to shows that are family friendly by honoring the family experience in all of its varied and diverse forms. In Netflix’s “One Day at a Time,” that family is bilingual and multi-generational and variably devoutly religious and the mother has PTSD and the daughter is beginning to understand she’s gay and those things all fit together, even if they don’t always fit together without a little drama and a lot of sentiment.

In ABC’s “Speechless,” the family includes a son with cerebral palsy and all of the financial and emotional pressures that can bring, including new addition Kenneth, who isn’t related to the DiMeos by blood or marriage, but is every bit a part of their inner circle. Both “One Day at a Time” and “Speechless” deal with grown-up themes and they’re both occasionally anarchic in their spirit, but I’m prepared to disown anybody who says both shows aren’t among the most family friendly on TV.

Eric Deggans (@deggans), NPR

I suspect that my idea of a family-friendly show might be a bit different than some other folks. I’ve always felt that the content police at places like the conservative watchdogs The Parents Television Council were a bit too limited in their thinking about what kind of TV was appropriate for a family to share. For example, my idea of a family-friendly show includes “Doctor Who,” a rollicking science fiction show which this year featured a gay sidekick and storylines featuring a time traveling villain who meets an earlier version of herself — who is male — and kills him (to be fair, he kills her, too). The way “Doctor Who” straddles serving both an adult science fiction audience and the younger viewers it has always served can sometime be frustrating to me; I’ve always thought the show’s ultimate baddies, the Daleks, look like upside-down trash cans with plungers stuck on the side, for instance. But the show does offer sophisticated science fiction stories which several generations of fans can love.

Another show I find family-friendly is ABC’s “Black-ish,” which can have some mature jokes and even centered one episode on how three generations of black folks use the n-word. Ultimately, “Black-ish” is about a family negotiating the new cultural terrain of a multicultural society in the funniest way. And they let the kids be funny, which my 13-year-old daughter loves. Finally, my daughter and I love watching the Food Network show “Chopped”; mostly because we’re such crappy cooks, we can’t imagine pulling off some of the dishes these competitors put together every week. For me, the most famliy-friendly shows are series which demonstrate the best qualities of great families — even if they are a little risque or occasionally explicit in some ways.

"Doctor Who"

“Doctor Who”

Simon Ridgway/BBC America

April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics

Recalling children’s television is like revisiting a battlefield for a PTSD afflicted veteran; I have scars. There are academic and critically acclaimed kid shows that will absolutely make you stare at the clock to hope it’s 5 p.m. so you can respectably wheel out the vino. Family-friendly to me is pure programming code for stuff you can watch with a kid and a curse-word sensitive nana who would be horrified by anything other than “Walker, Texas Ranger” or “Let’s Make A Deal.”

That is not friendly for me. It is endurance programming designed to keep the peace and not scar an impressionable mind. My two kids missed “Franklin,” “Caillou” and “Dora the Explorer” …thank goodness.

With the exceptions of Grover from “Sesame Street,” Nick’s “The Adventures of Pete and Pete” and the demented cartoon “Ren & Stimpy,” my kids dined on a loop of “Inspector Gadget” cartoons and a blur of PBS programming.

For today’s family-friendly pick, I vote for …Hallmark’s “When Calls The Heart” with Lori Loughlin. It’s a squeaky clean and inspired story of a woman of means who heads west (Canada) and lifts an impoverished coal town up. Great female-centric positive role model, good values (helping those in need) and a charming premise with well-cast actors for all ages but the ones just out of diapers.

Micah Fowler, "Speechless"

Micah Fowler, “Speechless”

ABC

Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), Uproxx

As the TV audience splinters into every niche and age demographic, almost nobody’s even bothering to make shows the entire family can safely watch and enjoy together. (That latter point is the key; there are plenty of shows I feel comfortable letting my kids see that I take little pleasure in myself.) Yet ABC alone has close to a half-dozen of them: family comedies that are, by and large, designed to be watched by families together. The best of those at the moment — and the most popular current show in our household not expressly produced for the 13-and-under set — is “Speechless.” It identifies both what is specific about the DiMeo family (JJ has special needs, which means everyone else in the house does too to varying degrees) and what is universal (there’s a constant push-pull for individual attention by the three kids and two grown-ups, various adolescent rites of passage). It makes JJ into an actual character rather than a disability in human form, but manages to find ways that his condition turns familiar kid situations and comedy plots into something new, and is impeccably cast from top to bottom. It’s a treasure, and one that I want to be watching with my kids for a long time to come.

Rob Owen (@RobOwenTV), Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

I’ve got to give it to PBS’s “Odd Squad,” a live-action, educational kids’ show that doesn’t make parents want to gouge their eyes out. Not only is it funny, clever and smart, but it is not painful co-viewing. And, get this: Each season contains some serialized storylines. “Odd Squad” even had a transition where they changed up kid agents between Seasons 1 and 2 — not just recasting, but an actual story that explained why the change was happening. “Odd Squad” is not as, ahem, odd as, say, “The Adventures of Pete and Pete,” but it’s an entertaining half hour following the pint-sized agents of Odd Squad as they investigate strange developments and resolve the problem using math skills. My runner-up show is Qubo’s “The Choo Choo Bob Show,” another live-action series that’s all about trains with a silly vibe that brings to mind “Captain Kangaroo.”

"One Day at a Time"

“One Day at a Time”

Michael Yarish / Netflix

Joyce Eng (@joyceeng61), TVGuide.com

Any one of ABC’s family comedies would apply here, but I’ll go with “One Day at a Time.” I’ll admit I had reservations about yet another remake of a beloved classic, now with a Cuban-American family at the center, and the fact that Netflix quietly dropped it on Jan. 6 with zero hype didn’t inspire much confidence. But maybe that was their plan all along. “One Day” is a gem waiting to be discovered. It’s a charming throwback in the best ways while being topical, smart, sharp, heartwarming but not cloying, and just damn funny. I would totally watch it with my non-existent kids… or tell them to binge themselves because I don’t like watching things with people.

Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is a show that stands out for me because creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock initially created it for NBC, necessitating a broadcast-friendly approach to extremely dark subject matter. But when the show went to Netflix, that theoretically freed it from standards and practices oversight… yet Fey and Carlock chose to keep the show friendly to a PG audience. Every once in a while, over the course of the last three seasons, “Kimmy” will push the boundaries of what might be appropriate for a young audience. But overall, the dark subject matter remains married to a light and optimistic tone inspiring for folks of all ages.

Tim Surette (@timsurette), TV.com

As long as your family includes young ones that don’t mind watching a lioness getting kicked in the face by a giraffe or the occasional smorgasbord of an animals’ innards, then nothing beats “Planet Earth II” for quality, family-friendly entertainment that both educates and entertains. My toddler loves the series almost as much as I do, and it’s supremely rewatchable for durability. If you want to see something even more geared for kids but also good for adults too, PBS’ “Odd Squad” is a family favorite at our house. It’s hilariously absurd comedy from insane Canadians who love to put children in adult clothes and roll the cameras.

"Odd Squad"

“Odd Squad”

PBS

Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox

Though it doesn’t really qualify as the “last year,” I want to give a special shoutout to “Adventure Time,” which is wrapping up its run with a terrific set of episodes that answer long-standing questions and bring a surprisingly wide-ranging epic to a close. This is the very best kind of sprawling show, and I have every faith it will end its story beautifully whenever Cartoon Network unfurls the last spate of episodes (probably in 2019!).

But the crown of TV’s best cartoon-ostensibly-aimed-at-kids-but-also-great-fun-for-their-parents now rests solidly upon the head of “Adventure Time’s” network mate “Steven Universe,” which took me a while to get into (so much shouting!) but has proved to be a surprisingly deep and compelling tale of a young boy’s coming of age and a world of openness and inclusion that is still a place filled with adventure and intrigue. I love the characters, I love the brightly colored designs, and I love the show’s ultimately hopeful message. Cartoon Network airs it far too sporadically, but this is one that should be on everybody’s list.

(On the flip side of this — TV shows ostensibly aimed at adults that are also great for the whole fam — I think ABC’s “Speechless” might just take the crown. What a warm, winning show! I also feel like if I had a slightly older kid — say 9 or 10 — I might watch “The Good Place” with them every week to help them get used to questioning everything anybody tells them, even if that anybody were their dear old dad.)

Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire

“The Adventures of Puss in Boots”! It’s definitely “The Adventures of Puss in Boots.” I’ve been talking about “The Adventures of Puss in Boots” for three years now. I’ve interviewed the stars, debuted exclusive footage, and pushed it in every way imaginable, so why stop now? “The Adventures of Puss in Boots” Season 5 debuts on Netflix July 28. It’s a treat through and through.

Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*

A: “Game of Thrones” (five votes)

Other contenders: “Twin Peaks” (three votes), “The Bold Type” and “Insecure,”  (one vote each)

*In the case of streaming services that release full sasons at once, only include shows that have premiered in the last month.

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