A recent social dust-up illustrates that Hollywood has a ways to go when it comes to producing wide-appeal family entertainment.
On March 18, Matt Singer, editor of genre-entertainment website ScreenCrush — a far cry from a conservative media watchdog — tweeted what he considered to be a noncontroversial take as a father of a 5-year-old:
Many parents agreed with him, and movie theater operators saw the problem. Yet several commenters were taken aback, suggesting he take his youngsters to see the PG-13 “Shazam” sequel. Summing up its content, noting “villains use mind control to force a character to walk off the roof of a building and fall to their death,” he concluded: “It is not a movie for little kids.”
The TV landscape presents similar problems. During spring break, many viewers could catch up on top series like HBO’s “The Last of Us,” foul-mouthed comedy “Ted Lasso,” or whatever young-adult genre show Netflix has out this week. While reliable critics note the first two series have merit for adults, does every well-written show need wall-to-wall cursing and explicit violence?
Yet values such as honor, a strong work ethic, and selfless friendship can still be found in a few of those 2,000-plus TV series currently being produced. Granted, several TV picks listed here grapple with mature themes and some feature violence not suited for the youngest viewers. And the best options for spring break family time surely involve beaches or books, not streaming video.
During downtime hours after venturing into the great outdoors, here are six current TV series defined by quality writing, protagonists both heroic and virtuous, and few content concerns.
If You Enjoy Complex Stories with Significant Themes
1. ‘The Chosen,’ Season Three (TV-PG, Angel app)
Gritty Gospel-inspired serialized drama “The Chosen,” which depicts the ministry of Jesus and his disciples, continues to build momentum — especially as Easter quickly approaches. While the show’s focus is squarely on the Messianic rabbi, played by actor Jonathan Roumie with joyful zeal, ancillary characters fuel key conflicts as disciples struggle to live out their mission.
“The Chosen” has found its footing in dramatizing the biblical narrative with creative license. Key events from Scripture — such as Jesus sending out his disciples and the miraculous feeding of 5,000 people — intersect with plausible, sharply written subplots. (Potential spoiler alert: Anyone who has dealt with pregnancy loss should be aware this difficult issue arises here.)
Viewers encounter distinct cultures clashing in Judea and see Roman authorities such as dryly humorous Roman praetor Quintus encroach on liberties. At a personal level, even a disciple like Judas has questions not easily resolved. It makes “The Chosen” (available to watch free worldwide) all the more engaging for audiences willing to parse fiction from facets of the text.
2. ‘Star Trek: Picard,’ Season Three (TV-14, Paramount Plus)
Following a convoluted second season, the final voyage of Sir Patrick Stewart as the iconic starship captain looked like it would crash land. Shockingly, “Star Trek: Picard” got a total reboot. As the entire crew of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” planned to reunite, “Picard” brought on a new showrunner, Terry Matalas, with a long history in science fiction.
Over 10 episodes, still playing out over the next month, season three has unveiled an intriguing high-stakes plot that builds on beloved characters whose relationships have evolved in ways that serve the story. It’s not without controversy; in a tense moment, ever-steady Stewart used the f-word, which earned one episode a mature rating.
But such minor issues haven’t diminished the show’s moral and ethical focus, a throughline that once defined “Star Trek.” Thankfully, this final “Picard” outing seems destined to achieve the potential of this series’ promising first season. (Just feel free to skip season two.)
If Your Family Has Tweens and Grade-Schoolers
3. ‘Star Wars: The Bad Batch’ (TV-PG, Disney Plus)
Disney’s “Star Wars” TV universe has hit resistance this year, with some audiences bailing on “The Mandalorian” following the axing of popular co-star Gina Carano. But for fans invested in the galaxy far, far away, the force is still strong with “The Bad Batch,” which follows the heroic missions of a misfit crew of enhanced clones who also train up an orphan along the way.
A spin-off of “The Clone Wars,” a seven-season saga that delved into military strategies and the human cost of war, this series plays a lot like “The A-Team” in space as specialized soldiers aid people-groups increasingly victimized by the Empire. While some “Bad Batch” missions are predictable, standout episodes like “The Clone Conspiracy” and “The Outpost” — about the value of life and how to resist tyranny — prove this animated show can tell stories with greater depth than several recent films in this franchise.
4. ‘The Wingfeather Saga,’ Season One (TV-PG, Angel app)
In this animated fantasy adventure, three siblings journey from a remote village and enter a grand adventure full of fantastical creatures as they face off against lizard-like Fangs led by Gnag the Nameless. Similar to epic series “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” it begins with a couple of episodes that playfully celebrate small-town life — until increasing dangers lead them to action.
With a voice cast including Jodi Benson (“The Little Mermaid”) as the kids’ mother Nia and Kevin McNally (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) as grandfather Podo, this hero’s journey reveals a multi-generational family banding together to oppose evil forces. A serialized adaptation of the acclaimed four-book series from novelist-songwriter Andrew Peterson, known for “Is He Worthy” among other songs, “The Wingfeather Saga” will continue with six further seasons planned.
If You Want to Be Inspired
5. ‘A Cut Above’ (TV-14, Discovery Plus)
Clearly modeled after hit Netflix series “Blown Away,” which spotlights the world’s top glass-blowing artists, Discovery’s “A Cut Above” showcases the rough-hewn artistry of chainsaw-wielding carvers. In each episode, master artisans hailing from around the world have only a few hours to transform a massive block of wood into an elaborate showpiece.
Watching these carvers and their differing approaches in an artistic discipline few have seen up close will spark anyone’s creative thinking — or, at least, makes for worthwhile casual viewing. Since even rare moments of frustration by an artist are bleeped, “A Cut Above” stays in TV-PG territory without mature content in episodes previewed.
6. ‘Tough As Nails’ (TV-PG, Paramount Plus)
After more than 30 seasons of “The Amazing Race,” host Phil Keoghan has created a different type of adventure-reality series from the ground up — centered on the work ethic of everyday Americans. “Tough As Nails,” which has its fifth season heading into production, presents physical and mental challenges that two teams of hard workers must tackle.
By recruiting a variety of first responders, construction foremen, and other frontline workers, it’s less about playing to cameras or globe-trotting locales. Instead of dog-eat-dog feuding, “Tough As Nails” makes the drama about camaraderie and strength of teamwork, such as when a veteran craftsman encourages an apprentice even as he bests him. And whether they win or lose, these salt-of-the-earth contestants are often heard thanking God — a rarity on network TV.