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?

We had burgers for dinner last night, and got into a conversation about hamburgers and their names, in general; how a hamburger isn't made of ham, and so a burger made with bear meat (for example) could, in fact, not necessarily be called a "bearburger".

During this conversation, somehow the trademark name of a burger came up in topic: The Quarter Pounder.

I asked Riley where one might obtain a Quarter Pounder.  He answered, "Jake's Wayback?" It's a local place that makes great burgers.  But obviously not Quarter Pounders.

Abby was quick to reply, "I know where to get Quarter Pounders, but I don't want to say because then Riley will know."

"Oh, really?" I asked.  "It's OK if Riley knows where they come from.  Where is it?"

"Cheeburger Cheeburger," she said, triumphant sounding.

+2 points for the parents.

The kids are basically home on their own this summer.  Nana is there to keep them out of my hair three days a week, but apart from that, they're on their own to figure out what they're going to do all day, be it outside or playing games indoors.  But this undirected summer "activity" selection more often than not ends up with the kids on the couch staring at the screen, with or without a game controller in hand.

This summer, we wanted to give them something to focus on, maybe attract their attention and learn something.  We wanted to provide them a direction for discovery, and not necessarily some mandatory activities to try to force them to enjoy.  Obviously, there are chores to complete.  And there are some activities that are mandatory for this discovery, but I think we've worked out a good plan.

Every week, we choose a topic. On Monday, Berta or I write up a bunch of questions, then later in the day the kids go to the library and research those questions. The intent of the questions isn't necessarily to obtain answers, but to get the kids looking into things that they wouldn't necessarily look into themselves while at the library. To pique their curiosity.

Then, each day of the rest of the week, they do something we've selected that is related to the topic and to the things they uncover in their research. All of this culminates in a weekend trip to somewhere fun (and educational) related to the work they've done all week.

The first two weeks of their summer have been about producing video.  I sent them to the library with some questions about lighting and some terms that they wouldn't know.  They looked up some things and checked out some books.  We now how a green screen in our basement, made of some cloth from Walmart and pinned to the wall in front of some lamps to cut out the shadows.  Abby's been using Sony's Movie Studio on her computer to assemble all of the clips and photos that they've been taking into some coherent video that they'll post online to mark their video "week".

The video segment was cut up a bit by some trips to the beach (which supplanted my weekend plans for a trip to the QVC studio or WHYY), so many of the photos and video they have to work with will include the bay/ocean.  If they are able, they'll produce a video each week of what they did that week during the summer, keeping a kind of video log of the whole summer's progress.

This week is food week.  The kids did a great job researching Berta's questions yesterday, and spent some time today sampling and comparing some of the spices and herbs from our cabinets.  Berta left out two loaves of banana bread last night - one using a Food Network recipe, the other using a Martha Stewart recipe.  The kids have been comparing.  Tonight's "homework" is to think of how to use the broccoli from our raised-bed garden in a dinner.

I've got designs for a physics week which would hopefully involve some amusement park science. There's an art week on Berta's schedule, where the kids will sample a bunch of different media for producing art. (I'm personally anxious for clay.) I'd really like to do a games week, where the kids play a bunch of different kinds of games - board, card, dice, role-playing - and then design their own game in the end.

All of this intermingles with their regular camp and grandparent visits.  There are only 13 weeks in summer, and we're going to have enough ideas that the kids will never say "Dad, I'm bored".  So far, so good.  I'm looking forward to the rest of the summer activities.