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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Girl Named Jo is a drama about two teenage girls from different walks of life who navigate social dramas and try to solve a mystery in 1963. The show is mostly clean -- there's no sex, drinking, drugs, or cursing -- but two characters in particular are mean to others, particularly a girl who comes from a working-class family, who is called a "skag" and a "four-eyed sweat hog." A strange fire is the cause of one character's mother's death, and it's implied other characters know more than they're telling. Teens have dates, flirt, and kiss, including in a scene where a girl who kisses her best friend's (creepy) boyfriend in secret. Violence tends toward pushing and shoving during a fight, but in a spookier-than-it-needs-to-be scene, a young boy sneaks into a yard to retrieve a stolen ball, we see a foot come down, and then we hear the boy screaming (he's OK in the next scene, so what happened?). Two strong female characters anchor the action -- though there's not a lot of diversity in the cast otherwise.
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What's the story?
In small-town Attaway in 1963, the life of pampered rich girl Cathy (Addison Riecke) changes when she befriends A GIRL NAMED JO -- Jo Chambers (Annie LeBlanc), the school misfit. At first, Cathy's put off by Jo's quirks, but soon grows to love her playfulness, sincerity, and bravery -- especially in the face in the untimely death of her mom after a mysterious fire. When the two join together to figure out just what happened to Jo's mom and why, Attaway will never be the same.
Is it any good?
Sincere and well-acted -- if a bit cheap-looking -- this drama has appeal for middle- and elementary-school viewers who will warm to the two charming leads and their budding friendship. Setting a teen show in the 1960s is a little different -- today's tweens haven't heard of The Wonder Years -- and the period setting lends the two-friends-team-up-to-solve-a-mystery framework some extra appeal, even if the showrunners play fast and loose with historical accuracy (Pop Art as the theme for a 1963 high school dance? Really? And To Kill a Mockingbird wasn't even published until a year after the first episode supposedly takes place). Kids who do research using old newspapers, who've never even seen a computer, and who mostly deal with gentle issues like parties and friend groups? What a concept!
On the down side, some of the characters in A Girl Named Jo are a little gratuitously mean, like a cheerleader who calls a character a "skag" and a "four-eyed sweathog" before pushing her down in a mud puddle. Her male counterpart sneers at a brother that his sister will be "in the backseat" of his car before long, and mocks him for working at a diner. Obviously, these over-the-top mean characters are being set up for a comeuppance, but parents may want to make a point about how unacceptable these actions are -- and how much they hurt those on the receiving end.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether it's ever appropriate to use stereotypes to create drama. Why or why not? How are stereotypes used in A Girl Named Jo?
Why would a show be set in another time other than now? Does it make the show more interesting? How does this show convey its setting in 1963? Does it come right out and announce the time period, or communicate the setting in other ways?
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