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02
Sep

Five promising fall TV shows

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Fall isn’t just back-to-school time. It’s fall TV season time, as new series roll out across broadcast and cable channels throughout the months ahead. Here are five promising offerings for you to check out with – or maybe before – you watch with your family this month.

The Chair (Starz, 11 p.m., Sept. 6) The Chair

This documentary (reality) competition series follows two aspiring filmmakers, Shane Dawson and Anna Martemucci, as they each work to create a film from the same material. The Chair shows the two through the process of creating, marketing and even the theatrical release of both films – which will air on Starz. The winner gets $250,000. Dawson is an internet star with a successful YouTube comedy channel. Martemucci is a writer, actor and filmmaker who recently received critical recognition for her independent film Breakup at a Wedding, which she co-wrote, produced and starred in. How will their creative visions differ? How are their decision-making skills? How do they handle the pressure? It could make for a thought-provoking series and for good discussions at home about staying true to yourself, your creativity and your ideas.

 

Henry Danger (Nickelodeon, 8 p.m., Sept. 13)

Nickelodeon will debut two Saturday night live-action comedies, hoping to lure in tween and younger viewers. The best of the two shows is Henry Danger, about a 13-year-old boy who lands a job as superhero sidekick. He’s an earnest and winning kid, and now he has a double life as an eighth grader and a crime fighter. That’s a big secret to keep, but it seems he is up to the task. It seems it might just be a step up from the usual kid sitcom. (The second show, Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn, features 10-year-old quadruplets who do a lot of bickering and drive their parents crazy. It would have been more interesting if real-life quads played the kids, but these are just four precocious kid actors playing kids who act out. It’s not a step up from anything.)

 

The-RooseveltsThe Roosevelts: An Intimate History (PBS, 8 p.m., Sept. 14)

The opening music of this miniseries is reminiscent of Downton Abbey, but this is a Ken Burns production, so it’s no soap opera. The Roosevelts chronicles the lives of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, three forces of nature in American politics, each in their own way. The series runs for two hours each night over seven nights and it should provide a fascinating look at three family members whose names we know well, but whose demons and struggles haunted them in ways we maybe never knew.

 

 

Red Band Society  (Fox, 9 p.m., Sept. 17)“Everyone thinks when you go to a hospital life stops. But it’s just the opposite. Life starts.” That’s the message from Red Band Society, a teen drama with a twist – it’s set in a pediatric wing of a hospital. The narrator is a 12-year-old boy in a coma. The kids – most of whom are teens, are all battling some serious ailment – cancer, anorexia, heart issues. And as they face the problems, they bond. Octavia Spencer plays the main doctor overseeing them. The trailer gives off a frank, sweet vibe and a portrayal of teens on TV in a way we’ve haven’t seen in series television. We’re betting there will be a lot of tears along with the laughter on this one. Let’s hope it also delivers some good messages about health, respect and caring along the way.

black-ishBlack-ish  (ABC, 9:30 p.m. Sept. 24) As we struggle to talk about race in our country (see last week’s blog post about Ferguson), this show is tackling it head-on. Anthony Anderson plays Andre ‘Dre’ Johnson, who has a great job, a beautiful wife, four kids, and an upscale home in suburbia. But he worries that his children may be losing touch with their cultural identity. This is all about race and society and raising kids in today’s multi-cultural world. Whether it’s done well or it’s a miserable flop, it will likely be talked about – for its title alone, if nothing else.

 

 

28
Aug

Parents: Put Your Tech on a Time Limit

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Doctor with BrainPart of the back to school routine probably includes a trip to the pediatrician. Health forms need to be filled out. Vaccinations updated. Chances are the doctors are talking a great deal about what your child is doing. Are they eating healthy foods? Are they getting enough exercise? They may even caution about spending too much time with technology. And that caution extends to parents, too.

Today’s parents seem to have taken the kids’ physical exercise challenge to heart. Be careful, or you will be mowed down by a double stroller jogger on the way to the playground. The farmer’s market is full of parents helping kids pick out healthy foods. The only problem is these parents are glued to their smart phone at the same time—either double-tasking work, talking to friends or arranging stimulating playdates for their kids. While we are so busy worrying about the time our kids are spending online, are us parents too absorbed in our own technology? It seems rather dubious to ask our kids not to play games or be on their phones as we sit and stare at our own devices to no end. Do you have a technology addiction? Does it ever interfere with your child’s play? Has your phone replaced you as the first place your child goes to for answers to important questions? It might be a good time to not only look at your child’s technology habits but those of the whole family. Tech free time is not only a good idea, it is liberating. Yes, you can live without that Facebook update. The e-mail can wait. Chances are, you can get a note from your doctor, prescribing some tech-free time!

 

25
Aug

Crack a Few Eggs. It’s Time to Talk About Race.

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Discussions about class and race can be uncomfortable. diverse boys

Watching the upsetting TV news accounts of events unfolding in Ferguson, MO., centered on the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, has brought racism to the forefront once again, raising the topic and prompting much debate – about civil rights, civil disobedience, and how and when to talk with your children about it.

Many experts say that if race, class and gender topics were discussed at home with kids at an early age, the problems might be diminished for us as a society. We need to be talking about it, early, often and openly.

A University of Texas researcher, mentioned in this 2009 Newsweek story, found that race can be an issue at age three or even earlier. The idea of being “color blind” – not recognizing that we are a world filled with different colors – is not a good way to prevent discrimination and prejudice, according to research conducted by behavioral psychologist Michael I. Norton, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, and colleagues. They found that racial colorblindness is a social convention that begins to internalize by children as young as age 10. “Very early on kids get the message that they are not supposed to acknowledge that they notice people’s race—often the result of a horrified reaction from a parent when they do.”

But trying hard not to acknowledge race served to perpetuate bias, the Harvard group found. Instead, they suggested celebrating multiculturalism – acknowledging the many ethnic groups that make up our communities, and our world.

“The way we get better about talking about race is to talk about race,” Stephen Pimpare, author of A People’s History of Poverty, tells CNN in an excellent story and video on the topic.

So, how and when should we get started?

It depends on the age and maturity level of your children. Younger kids may be scared by the violent images. “In early childhood … the most important issue is safety,” Stephen Zwolak, executive director of the University City Children’s Center in St. Louis, not far from where the Ferguson events are happening, told St. Louis Public Radio. “They need to be physically safe, emotionally safe, and socially safe.”

Older teens in the St. Louis area have been discussing First Amendment rights and whether the officer was justified in his shooting. The notion of protests – peaceful and otherwise – is another timely topic.

For those of us watching from afar, it’s a chance to talk about empathy for other human beings. As one New Jersey mom told CNN of her children, “When they were very young, I started teaching them to respect people.” At CivilRights.org, suggestions include telling your elementary school-aged children that we are all “different,” but that doesn’t make anyone “better” or “weirder” than the rest.

Dr. Beverly Tatum, president of Spelman College and author of two books about talking with kids about race, urges that the message can be imparted through everyday life – given the right opening.

eggs“I was cooking with my 3-year-old,” she told Parenting.com. “We used the last white egg in the carton, and then took out another carton of eggs, this time brown eggs.  My son noted that the eggs were different in color. ‘Yes,’ I said, as we cracked both eggs open, ‘But look—they are the same inside.  Just like people, they come in different shades, but they are the same on the inside.’”

 

 

 

22
Aug

Back to School Conundrum

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To those without kids, it seems a bit disingenuous, maybe even a little insulting, for parents to celebrate the kids going back to school as many seem to do. Parents are always talking about their kids and how they long for more quality time with the family. Of course, come summer, we realize how quickly our carefully made plans can go horribly wrong and how fast bonding time can go sour and simply turn into a marathon X-box session. Do we love our kids in theory, but not 24 hours in the same house for a week?

The hard truth about parenting—marketing and movies be damned—is that there are times when being with your own kids is—just, well, hard. Once you become a parent, you are the human napkin, the 24 hour bank, the playground pal and anytime/anywhere life coach. It’s okay to admit you need a break. In fact, it’s healthy to know your limits. It’s okay to quietly and privately celebrate some alone time when the kids go back to school. Even if it means a few minutes of sorting the mail after work, or gathering your thoughts before greeting the sticky kindergartner, it really does help kids when parents also look out for themselves.

First Day of School  Just don’t be surprised that, a minute or two after the bus pulls away, if you burst  into tears and start missing them immediately.

 

18
Aug

You’ll want to book the sitter for this one

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The movie is called Boyhood, but it could easily have been titled Parenthood. boyhood

Movie critics have been raving about director Richard Linklater’s impressive, poignant and ambitious film about a boy (in theaters now). What makes it so unique is that he filmed the movie in 39 days – over the course of 12 years. And it’s beautiful.

Linklater easily could have used makeup to age the actors and tell his story. Or he could have found kids of different ages to portray the same character growing up. But instead he used real actors and real time, and we get to see and experience their coming of age in a very real way.

The film opens with Mason, an adorable and sensitive six-year-old who’s trying to cope with a big sister, a single mom and school. The actor who portrays him, Ellar Coltrane, grows up and turns into an equally adorable and sensitive young man by the end of the film. We also watch as his sister Samantha, played by Lorelei Linklater (the director’s daughter), goes from sassy little girl to confident college co-ed.

But there are many bumps in between.

The years aren’t clearly marked in the film. We know them by the small changes  – weight gain, facial hair, old computers, new video games – and the big life ones, too.

Patricia Arquette deftly portrays a pivotal role as the kids’ mom, who makes bad choices when it comes to men and constantly struggles to better herself and her situation. The kids’ father is played by Ethan Hawke. He’s a sometimes-there dad, a rock-star wannabe with a hot car and no obvious job, but he isn’t a bad guy. The other two men she marries are. Mason and Samantha achingly deal with alcoholism and unhappiness from them over the years just as their own identities and passions are being forged.

The result is a moving, breathing scrapbook of life – mostly focused on Mason. You’ll feel his pain and root for his success. You’ll likely think of your own childhood and you’ll also look at your kids and contemplate how all the choices you’ve made have affected them. And in the final moments, you might find yourself thinking a little bit of Forrest Gump.

But Gump, rated PG-13, is a wild, fantastic story. Boyhood, rated R, is a longer, deeper look at a life – charming, moving, and definitely worth getting a sitter for the night.