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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Salem is an intense drama series set during the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century in the United States. The portrayals of spirit possession are very disturbing, causing a teen girl to contort, writhe in pain, and inflict harm on herself like biting off her own finger. Witchcraft practitioners are doused in blood for group rituals, and capital punishment is exacted by hanging and, in one case, crushing with stones. People are shot, whipped, and branded for various crimes. Sexuality is similarly explicit, showing intense bedroom encounters that obscure only genitalia and breasts, plus hints at masturbation and a link between sexuality and witchcraft. This is by no means a historical retelling of the events in Salem in the 1690s, but it does extrapolate from documented facts a compelling story for a mature audience.
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What's the Story?
SALEM opens with the exodus of the village's most eligible bachelor, John Alden (Shane West), for war, leaving his beloved Mary (Janet Montgomery) behind in the strict Puritan community. When he finally returns seven years later, he arrives to find Mary married to the town's merciless elder, George Sibley (Michael Mulheren), and Salem gripped by witchcraft hysteria, led by the duplicitous Cotton Mather (Seth Gabel). As accusations fly, powerful forces divert the public's attention from the true instigators and curse the lives of innocent bystanders. John and town outcast Isaac (Iddo Goldberg) search for answers to the mysterious happenings in and around the village, while Mary attempts to cloak her own involvement by casting aspersions on her neighbors.
Is It Any Good?
Salem is a scintillating series that takes a slightly different approach to dramatizing the well-known happenings in the famous Massachusetts town. Rather than dwelling on the plausibility of witchcraft in this time and place, the show runs on the proclamation that the supernatural definitely was at play and redirects the mystery to the unveiling of the guilty parties and their motivations. As viewers, you're privy to this information almost immediately, so the hook is in watching the characters piece it together.
Salem marks WGN's first play at delivering a competitive scripted drama series, and it performs fairly well in that regard. With intriguing characters and a dark, tense storyline that embraces elements of horror and sci-fi along with some historical facts, it's easy to get drawn into this highly produced show. Montgomery in particular entrances as the cunning Mary Sibley forced to make the impossible choice because of the impossible circumstances of the time and place. That said, its graphic violence and explicit sexuality make it unsuitable for most teens, so proceed with caution when it comes to sharing it with your own.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how explicit sexual content affects viewers. Are the sexual scenes necessary in this show? Do they suggest a certain tolerance of sexual freedom in our society?
Did you find any of the violence in this show to be excessive? Is this kind of content more forgivable if it's meant to reflect the reality of the time and place? Is there potential fallout from witnessing violence in the media?
This series explores the effects of hysteria on a community. Is it possible that a similar scenario could occur in modern times? How does our constant access to information help avoid this? Could it possibly contribute to it?
- Premiere date: April 20, 2014
- Cast: Shane West, Janet Montgomery, Seth Gabel
- Network: WGN
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, History, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- TV rating: TV-MA
- Last updated: October 12, 2022
Our Editors Recommend
Terrifying guilty pleasure is iffy for sensitive teens.
Fairy tale-inspired show has more blood than happy endings.
The Tomorrow People
Violent sci-fi series raises discussion points for teens.
For kids who love dramatic stories
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate