If you’re a parent, chances are you’re already well aware that a “family-friendly” label on a TV show actually means “adult-tortuous.” It didn’t used to be this way: There was a time when the whole clan could come together and watch shows like Family Ties, Little House on the Prairie and Happy Days. Unfortunately, your children would rather die than watch any of these shows, and I doubt you’re excited by the prospect either. Thank goodness there really are shows out there that the entire family can watch together and enjoy simultaneously. If you suddenly find you have a great many hours of family time to fill (and, well, you do), these are the shows you should be watching (or re-watching).
Netflix, The CW app
Of the many superhero shows on the CW — or on TV in general — Supergirl is the one your family’s likely going to enjoy the most. Its superhero action is decidedly TV-PG, and while it doesn’t shy away from its comic book roots, it never feels like you need to read 50 years of comics to get what’s going on. What really makes Supergirl different from its brethren, though, is how the show itself wants to do good, too. It’s not just the pro-girl power message at its core — the show boasts a wonderfully diverse cast of characters, including the first live-action trans superhero Dreamer, played by trans actor Nicole Maines.
Supergirl isn’t afraid to get political, either; the show’s fourth season focused on a “humans-first” group that began terrorizing the city’s aliens, as a way for Supergirl’s younger viewers to wrap their heads around the rise of racism in America. Add in a great performance by Melissa Benoist as the title hero (and her alter-ego Kara Danvers), a solid supporting cast, some very PG romance and some classic superhero fun, and you’ve got a super show indeed.
2) Bob’s Burgers
Hulu, the FOX Now app
While it seems like The Simpsons and Family Guy always manage to hog the spotlight, Bob’s Burgers has quietly put out 10 seasons of wonderful, funny TV that deserve the attention more. Yes, it’s very much yet another cartoon about an American working-class family, but unlike its competitive set, Bob’s Burgers has endless heart. It cares about Bob, his wife Linda, their three weird kids and their struggling burger shop, but it also has empathy for even its most minor and strangest characters. It allows the show to spend just as much time following the lives of the kids as the adults, but manages to keep both school and work shenanigans funny and relatable, no matter the age of the viewer. Bob’s Burgers is the very definition of a feel-good show, and that’s a show worth watching nowadays.
3) Jane the Virgin
You’ve probably heard good things about the beloved CW comedy-drama Jane the Virgin, and let me tell you that whatever you’ve heard second-hand doesn’t do the show justice. You actually have to watch this story of three generations of Venezuelan women living in Miami to understand why it’s so good. Part of it is that it’s a love letter to Latin telenovelas while very much being one itself.
While it’s meta as hell, the writing is clever enough to keep it from getting smart-alecky, and the performances — especially Gina Rodriguez as Jane, the titular virgin who gets accidentally inseminated in a hospital switcheroo — are so three-dimensional that they make all the smaller moments (like a fight between Jane and her grandmother, or a romantic scene with one of her competing love interests) matter just as much as crazy soap opera twists like secret crime lords, secret celebrity fathers, and of course, someone who dies but eventually comes back with amnesia.
Again, this description doesn’t do it justice either — bring three generations of your family to the couch and prepare to be hooked.
4) Steven Universe
Hulu, the Cartoon Network app
I’ve said it before and I’ll happily say it again: Steven Universe is so good it’s a miracle. Although it’s about a young boy who helps defend Earth with the help of his three adoptive aunts, who happen to be aliens called the Crystal Gems, calling it a superhero show is a grave injustice. Some adults may balk at some of the early episodes’ extended silliness (although it’s very funny), but if they stick around they’ll find an impressive amount of world-building, with a deeply compelling story about family, relationships, love and that heartbreaking moment when you realize your parents are human after all (even if one of them isn’t).
Perhaps more importantly, there’s no animated series that has a better representation of gender and sexual nonconformance, nor is there a series that better teaches the importance — and power — of tolerance and forgiveness, all while remaining as TV-PG as anyone could want. Steven’s story finally comes to an end this Friday with the final episode of Steven Universe: Future (the sequel series) so once you start the show, you’ll be able to binge-watch right through to the end. And you’ll probably want to.
Hey, remember when Star Wars used to be PG-rated? The new movies sure don’t, but The Mandalorian does. The Disney+ exclusive show has received a ton of attention, mainly for introducing the world to the merchandisable-to-the-point-of-being-weaponized Baby Yoda, but also for being an entertaining show that even the grumpiest fanboys can agree upon. It hits that exact same all-ages sweet spot that the first Star Wars movie did back in 1977 — a cool setting, a simple plot (a cool-as-ice bounty hunter’s life is turned upside down when he decides to protect his adorable bounty, Baby Yoda, instead of giving him to the bad guys) that doesn’t require mountains of franchise lore to make sense of and plenty of fun sci-fi action without graphic lightsaber beheadings. Even if the last few movies burned you out, there’s a lot to enjoy about The Mandalorian. Yes, including Baby Yoda.
6) Nailed It
If you can get your entire family to sit down and enjoy baking or cooking competitions, you’re in serious luck: The world has provided content for you. But despite the immense popularity of shows like Chopped and The Great British Baking Show, believe it or not, some people don’t care about watching people make food. However, it turns out everyone loves watching people fail to make food. Nailed It is a cult-favorite series with an ever-increasing legion of members who tune in to watch three hapless, would-be chefs try to make elaborate works of cake art. Even if the contestants had the baking skills to make an attempt (and they very much do not), they’re given an impossible time limit as well, and the results are horrendous, pitiful and hilarious.
This show should be mean-spirited — it’s literally about the joy of watching people try to do something and fail — but somehow it never is, thanks in large part to hosts Nicole Byer and adorable French chocolatier Jacques Torres, who keep all the ribbing good-natured but still very funny.
7) One Day at a Time
Netflix, the Pop TV app
One Day at a Time shares more than a name with the long-running 1970s/1980s sitcom of the same name: Both are about a single mother struggling with raising her two kids, and both aren’t afraid to bring some very serious drama in-between the jokes. In the newer incarnation’s case, Justina Machado plays Penelope Alvarez, an ex-Army nurse suffering from PTSD who tries to navigate her Cuban-American family through real-world issues of poverty, discrimination, addiction, homophobia and more, with help from her mother, played by Rita Moreno.
The series has won some very deserved acclaim, especially for its sensitive, honest storyline of daughter Elena (Isabella Gomez) discovering her homosexuality, and struggling to come out to her family. This all may sound too dark and adult for kids, but it’s very much a show about a family for families, and One Day at a Time is a comedy, first and foremost — and a good one. While Netflix canceled the show after three seasons (which still live on the streaming service), the show was picked up for another season by Pop TV, the premiere of which just aired on March 24th. If you don’t have the channel, you can still watch the episode for free on its app.
Disney+, YouTube TV
Many parents likely have fond memories of watching the original cartoon, which was the cornerstone of the Disney Afternoon programming block back in the late 1980s and early 1990s (awoo-oo!). If those parents are unaware that a rebooted version of DuckTales came out in 2017, let me correct that immediately, because this cartoon is phenomenal. It’s still about a trio of ducklings taken on fantastic adventures by their phenomenally rich and Scottish great-uncle Scrooge, and it can be very silly. But this isn’t one of those shows that toss in jokes that sail safely over kids’ heads in hopes of keeping adults awake: It’s genuinely funny — the writing is so sharp and the voice acting so stellar that it’ll keep adults genuinely entertained.
There’s also an overarching plot of the boys trying to find out what happened to their mother. Yes, Huey, Dewey and Louie do have one, and she’s out there — well, I won’t spoil it, because amid all the gags the show still manages to mine some genuine pathos and heartfelt emotion amid all the silliness. And if nothing else, you’ll be amazed at the voice cast they managed to snag. Oh, is that Lin-Manuel Miranda as the voice of GizmoDuck? Why yes it is.
9) A Series of Unfortunate Events
If most kids’ shows are too treacly for you to stomach, may I direct you to Netflix’s sterling adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s morose, darkly humorous book series? The books (in reality written by Daniel Handler) were a huge hit in the late 1990s/early 2000s, receiving a mediocre movie adaptation in 2004. Netflix’s 2017 TV version is far superior because it doesn’t shy away from the stories’ biggest strength: It doesn’t talk down to children by telling them the world is all puppies and rainbows. In fact, sometimes your parents die in a fire, and you’re given to an immensely sinister relative determined to steal you and your two siblings’ inheritance by any nefarious means available, including framing your murder, while all the other adults in your life are completely oblivious to your plight.
Featuring a simply phenomenal turn by Neil Patrick Harris as said sinister relative Count Olaf, and Patrick Warburton as the story’s reluctant narrator Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events is either a very funny tragedy or a very tragic comedy. Either way, it’s extremely entertaining.
10) Parks & Recreation
Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube TV
We could all use a little positivity right now, and a rewatch of Amy Poehler’s beloved sitcom about the small-town city government of Pawnee, Indiana is probably the surest bet to put a smile on your family’s faces. The undefeatable optimism of Leslie Knope in her attempts to improve the lives of, well, everyone, has made it one of the most beloved shows of the 2010s — note how many streaming services are showing it — although the fact it’s deeply, consistently hilarious probably helps, too.
Thanks to stars like Nick Offerman, Adam Scott, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, Retta, Aziz Ansari and Rob Lowe, the show contains practically nothing but beloved characters, and unlike so many of its sitcom contemporaries, other than a smattering of bleeped-out profanity and a couple of appropriately censored scenes of a pre-Guardians of the Galaxy Pratt running around buck naked, the show is thoroughly PG.
Parks and Rec is the televised equivalent of eating comfort food in your comfiest pajamas, so grab some comfort food, those PJs and your family, and enjoy.