Our Top 10 Kid-Safe Adult-Friendly Shows:
Because you can only take so much My Little Pony
I’ve been dreaming of summertime for so long it hardly feels real that it’s finally here.
I woke up yesterday bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and stepped into my Keens, ready to spend the day basking in the glorious lemony-gold goodness of my old friend the sun. I had epic plans to write under the centenarian shade tree wrapped up in a sea of green foliage on all sides.
Laptop tucked under my arm and a jar of iced coffee in my hand, I flung the front door open expecting angelic cries of “Hallelujah” from above. Instead, I was hit with a powerful wall of heat that could only be the eighth circle of Dante’s Inferno. I slammed the door shut with the force of a thousand hard nopes, shrieking back into the dark, cool cave of my living room. “I will be taking my coffee in the study today,” I told no one, smoothing over my spiritually singed eyebrows.
Summer solstice is mere days away, and when it comes to heat-induced misery, we’re already fast approaching critical mass.
I love few things more than playing with my kids–making Barbie clothes out of old fabric, unapologetically annihilating them at board games and Xbox alike, dining at a Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria constructed of pillows and VHS tapes. But I also work between 6 and 10 hours a day as a writer, which means I need at least a little quiet time, and my rowdy band of indoor parkour pirates underfoot is about as conducive to producing good work as a house party hosted by raccoons and emceed by Weird Al.
I am not too terribly ashamed that sometimes, friends, when it comes down to crunch time, like my parents before me and their parents before them, I turn to old reliable, AKA the babysitter, AKA the telly. And yet as any parent who has ever left the room only to come back to murderous zombies and profanity to shock even the saltiest sailors blasting from the TV knows, the airwaves are dark and full of terror.
Parental locks and kids’ streaming video accounts work pretty well for little kids, but sometimes older or more precocious children prefer something a little more complex than what is offered or easily found on Netflix or Hulu kids’ accounts. Arthur tends to be a fan of anything that sells merch at Hot Topic, but his Netflix recommendations are The Magic School Bus, Treehouse Detectives, and Boss Baby. I can almost hear his audible groan as I type those titles.
And as any parent knows, if your kids are watching something, you’re probably watching it to some degree, too, and a mom can only take so much Disney channel. When Arthur was really little, I learned early on the value of finding shows that are kid-safe rather than kid-friendly. I think of “kid-safe” as anything that might have qualified for prime time network TV when I was growing up in the 80s and early 90s.
On the profanity scale ranked from “Pentecostal preacher stubs his toe” to “Tarantino on a bender,” kid-safe shows fall into the “Golden Girls after a pitcher of margaritas” category. Death and violence are closer to a game of Clue than whatever nightmare is currently playing out on AMC, and sexual content is like Axe Body Spray–the quality is not that great and it’s pretty cringey, but it doesn’t take a whole lot to get people ‘shipping.
I’m giving y’all my list of favorite “kid-safe” tv shows that you can enjoy being together with your kids and not want to smash in the TV from boredom. I am including breakdown of what we like about each one and what to expect when you watch it. Just remember, we’re the parents who have a long-haired ten-year-old boy who doesn’t eat meat on ethical grounds, so our list is gonna be pretty progressive. I recommend you check everything out for yourself before watching it, and I recommend talking about everything you see together as a family.
You will find a lot of sci-fi and fantasy on this list because surprise! We’re huge geeks. Every show is something our entire family enjoys watching and is something we feel comfortable letting the kids watch unsupervised, but what works for us may not work for your family. These shows are interesting enough that kids should be able to follow along and enjoy them, but they offer a level of complexity that makes them enjoyable for grown-ups.
Here are our top 10 kid-safe shows:
1. Doctor Who
Available on Amazon Prime
When I was a kid growing up in the 80s, Doctor Who lived in the lamest corner of PBS. I think I caught glimpses here or there, but it seemed pretty cheesy and lo-fi in the era of Spielberg and Star Wars. I started watching it as an adult when Arthur was about 2 years old and he and I were spending a lot of time home alone while Justin worked late at a bar. I realized I needed to find TV shows that were not oozing profanity and violence, and someone recommended Doctor Who. I did not expect to love it so much. Most of the conflicts that arise in the show are solved by communication. The Doctor uses a screwdriver to fix things rather than a weapon. It’s witty, well-written, good sci-fi. Be warned that it can be a little bit scary…When Lucy was younger, she found some of the monsters downright terrifying. But then, she also ran out of Captain Underpants crying, so use your own discretion.
Available on Amazon Prime
Chock full o’ Xenniel humor, Psych is a good old-fashioned murder-mystery story in the tradition of Murder, She Wrote and Moonlighting. The show follows two best friends from childhood, Shawn and Gus, as Shawn cons his way into working as a psychic consultant for the Santa Barbara police department. He’s not a psychic; he’s just a bit of a man-child who is super good at solving crimes and doesn’t want to deal with the hassle of being an actual cop with all those pesky rules. Shawn and Gus scooby-doo their way through formulaic murder mysteries dropping Matryoshka-dolls of inside jokes wrapped in inside jokes and countless pop culture Easter eggs. The show’s deeply devoted fandom of “psych-os” has been rewarded with novels, a musical, and even a movie that came out three years after the show went off the air. Violence is very minimal and almost cartoonish. There’s a lot of soft profanity and some occasional sexual innuendos, most of which are going to go right over your kids’ heads.
3. Malcolm in the Middle
Available on Hulu
Fandom: middle children
This single-camera kid-centered sitcom stands the test of time 18 years after it originally aired. Long before Walter White ever decided to break bad with chemistry, Bryan Cranston was the most devoted husband ever and a father to three (later four) mischievous boys, with genius son Malcolm observing and narrating all from his perspective as middle child. Humor is witty, not cheap like so many sit-coms. Swearing is very minor; I would be far more concerned about my kids trying to reenact some of the hijinks of Malcolm and his brothers.
4. The Joy of Painting (Bob Ross)
Available on Netflix and free all over Youtube
Fandom: should be called the Happy Trees
There are two different collections of Bob Ross episodes on Netflix listed under “Chill with Bob Ross” and “Beauty is Everywhere.” My kids love Bob Ross, and from what I understand, this is common. Something about his soothing voice, the calming way he wields his palette and ruminates about happy little trees and phthalo blue, the little squirrel friends he brings out from time to time. It’s hypnotic and mellow as heck. Years later, we can still get everyone to wind down for bedtime just by putting Bob on. Free of violence, sex, and profanity, this is the original all-organic, free-range option for family viewing.
5. Star Trek (The Original Series, Voyager, Enterprise, and Deep Space Nine)
Available on Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime
If you’re a trekkie, you probably know from the title of my blog that I am a giant trekkie. “There’s coffee in that nebula” is a line from Captain Janeway in Voyager, because if you run out of coffee in space, there’s no Quiktrip to stop at. I grew up watching the Original Series with my mom in syndication, then I went on to become a giant fan of The Next Generation. My kids have loved watching every Star Trek series with me. This show is as much about exploring human nature as it is about exploring space, and it’s one of the few sci-fi shows that presents a positive view of futurism. Even though they’re living in the future with weird space adventures, people are pretty much all still the same, and that’s pretty reassuring. There’s a lot of super cringey sexy content, 90 percent of which is Kirk or Riker-centered. Anyway, there are far worse things to worry about on the Enterprise. I did not include Discovery on this list because while it’s a great show, it was created for streaming video and is not very (by which I mean in any way) family-friendly. Read: naughty Klingons.
6. The Librarians
Available on Hulu
Fandom: probably overeducated
Noah Wyle and Dean Devlin’s TNT show about a magical library is just about a perfect family-friendly adventure. The show was originally a series of movies airing from 2004 to 2008 starring Noah Wyle as an academic dweeb with more degrees than sense who uses academia as an excuse to hide from actual adulting. The films were kind of a nerdy Indiana Jones, and the series is more of the team-heist type vibe of Leverage, another family-friendly Dean Devlin drama. This show is very clean, very fun, and kind of adorable.
Available on Amazon Prime
Fandom: Alive and well on Livejournal
We just started watching this one. It’s not necessarily the most mind-blowing sci-fi out there, but it’s a great show for fandom geeks. The show harkens back to a simpler time when we all had flip phones and still thought the government was capable of escaping partisan antics long enough to oversee elaborate secret projects. It follows the life of a sheriff in a town of government-sponsored geniuses. Eureka is brimming with Easter eggs and allusions to other scifi, and it has spawned heckloads of fanfics, many that are oddly NSFW for a show that is so clean. The show centers on the mayhem and tomfoolery that ensues when a town full of Walter Bishop’s people are allowed to science as much as they like.
8. Xena: Warrior Princess
Available on Hulu
Xena gave the world so much. In a time when female characters were presented as flat love interests, Xena offered a female protagonist on a quest for redemption from her past sins. The show contained romance, but there was no primary story arc that focused on sexual tension between Xena and a male protagonist. Xena was a hero on her own, perhaps the greatest hero of her world. But Xena’s strength came as much from her relationships with friends and family as it did from within. The show also offered a beautiful portrayal of a female-female relationship, one that was perhaps ambiguously romantic, in a time when those representations were rare. I remember back in the 90s many of my LGBT friends identified with the show enough to go to conventions for that very reason. Xena was also a very real, very round and dynamic character. I love this show for its fanciful, whimsical qualities, its strong female protagonist, and its portrayal of the complexity of human nature. It’s a little saucy but fairly clean. Yes, there’s lots of violence, but it’s mostly in the form of totally sweet martial arts moves.
Available on Hulu
Firefly is a space western, but instead of the American frontier, our pioneers do business out on the edges of colonized space 500 years from now. Out beyond the control of the Alliance, people get into some sketchy business. The crew of the Firefly has Han Solo syndrome–they can’t help but be do-gooders despite every effort to be bad. The little bit of cursing in the show is made-up swear words, so if your kids do pick it up, it might just be gorram hilarious. I swear by my pretty floral bonnet you’ll like it.
Available on Hulu
Fandom: probably meatbags
Arguably the least kid-friendly item on this list, most of the more adult content matter is going to fly right over your kids’ heads, unlike Rick and Morty, which, while a good show, is completely not appropriate for kids in any way whatsoever, I don’t care how cool of a dad you are ::coughs loudly::
The surrealist sibling to the Simpsons, Futurama follows the adventures of a guy who accidentally gets cryogenically frozen and wakes up 1,000 years in the future. Yes, the show contains mild profanity, yes, it contains quite a few euphemisms for ::whispers:: relations, and no, it really doesn’t contain any good role models. And yes, there’s an alcoholic robot. But heck, we live in troubling times, and art reflects life. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Anyway, it’s hilarious and smart, so check it out if you haven’t already.
Sword Art Online an anime about virtual reality, man (Netflix)
Sliders alternate realities, man (Hulu)
Haven lighthouses and aether (rental only on Amazon or Youtube)
Supergirl girl power–Lucy wrote a fan book about this show (The CW)
Once Upon a Time fairy tale mashups by overly caffeinated writers (Hulu and Netflix)
Leverage Robin Hood-style heists (rental only on Amazon or Youtube)
In the golden age of television, navigating that world can be a tricky biz.
I hope this list gives you a new show to check out as a fam or to babysit your own kids with. It’s all right, nobody here is judging you. This is the blog where we discuss smuggling purse snacks into movies and don’t always shower on Sundays.
As usual thanks for reading and leave a comment below letting me know what your favorite kid-safe, adult-friendly tv show is.