There's a handful of good programs on "TV" these days.  Berta and I have been enjoying House of Cards, True Detectives, and The Walking Dead, for example.  Game of Thrones is soon to return to the screen, and we watched the first episode of Black Sails last night, which wasn't bad.  But none of these shows are appropriate for our kids, aged 9 and 12.

Well, that's not completely true.  There are shows that are designed for 9 or 12-year-olds.  But those shows are of no interest to Berta or me.  They're all trite and lack complexity.  And I'm not against cartoons, but it would be nice to watch something together that's not a cartoon.

The last thing we really enjoyed watching together was a cartoon, Avatar the Last Airbender. The sequel, Korra, isn't bad, but it's not quite as good.  And since there's only that show, we've been turning to other cartoons - recently Fullmetal Alchemist - to get that fix of complex theme with kid-approachable topic.

My conclusion: There is no great family TV.

I don't want to return to ABC Family Nights and Disney movies.  Sure, they're fine, but I think they've drifted and so has their audience.  Disney family movies get weirdly preachy while demonstrating child behavior that looks ok but really isn't.  For example, they'll show kids sneaking out of bedroom windows like it's a normal thing.  Simultaneously, they're ridiculously trite and kid-relationship-heavy.  What used to be something the family could enjoy watching together without having heavy-handed lessons has become something I can't stand watching for more than a few minutes.

At the same time, I would love for these shows to be even more gritty.  Our world isn't always the clean, sterile set of 7th Heaven.  It's why Almost Human is on the edge of attractive to me as a family show.  It has complex future themes and nice character banter.  It makes you think without forcing the issue.  And yet, it's occasionally a bit on the wrong side of discretion for the kids -- A little heavy on the sex, a little heavy on the violence.

Elementary is a favorite show of mine.  I would like to watch it with the kids, because it's interesting and complex.  Sure, it's not as nuanced as other shows, but it's a good evening's entertainment.  That said, it's hit-or-miss with the kids due to its occasional foray into adult themes.  Every so often Sherlock comes out of his bedroom with three women, implying things I'd rather not need to explain to 9-year-old Riley.  While it's a good show, I'd rather watch a show once with everyone than screen it once with Berta before deciding if it's kid-appropriate and watching it again.

As a typical American, I'm more ok with violence than sex. We watch Bones, which isn't so much about the violence but the aftermath of the violence.  I'm ok with some violence for the kids, since they're unavoidably exposed to it elsewhere in our culture.  As long as it's not explicit, gratuitous, or excessive, that's not too bad.  The theme of a show can't be violence alone, though.

I've been re-watching Veronica Mars prior to the upcoming movie release.  It's a great show, and just the kind of complex story I'd want the kids to get into.  Except for the rape that colors the entire first season.  And third season.  Ugh.  It's not that they shouldn't eventually be exposed to these realities, but that it feels too casual to introduce via a TV program.

Mind you, I'm not looking to teach any lessons with TV.  TV, as far as I'm concerned, is lesson-free mindless recreation.  Sure, you can take topics out of TV to discuss, but I don't set out watching a show with the intent to talk to the kids about it afterward.  We watch TV with them all too little to bother.  I'm really just looking for a show that we can all enjoy, so that we're not forced to wait until after their bed time to turn on a program.

I'm looking for something squarely between Game of Thrones and Wizards of Waverly Place. No vampires.  Ideally, Veronica Mars without going into the sexual themes.  Something with some real conflict/intrigue, and that doesn't focus on tween puppy love.

Got any ideas?

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