A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
Like most Westerns, the show is packed with flawed characters and even the most well-behaved among them make questionable decisions. Racism and sexism abound.
Positive Role Models
Everyone here is pretty much a caricature we've seen in countless Westerns before: the smooth-talking charlatan, the leering drunkard, the kind-hearted gruff old man, the saintly mother. Women in particular are presented in a one-dimensional manner.
Young Billy develops a close friendship with a Mexican boy named Carlos, with the two of them teaching each other their native languages. Billy is horrified by the violence he sees enacted against Mexican people by the violent White townsfolk and argues "they matter to me!" when told not to "waste his time on those who don't matter". Still, one man's relative decency doesn't outweigh the rest of the show's lacking representation. By the time Native Americans show up in episode 4, they're stealing Billy's horse. A trip to Chihuahua Mexico depicts a community of scammers and thieves. About the only group of non-whites shown in a somewhat positive light are the Chinese laundry-owners who defend their business from would-be robbers and are depicted as brave and honorable -- though they're definitely not spoken of that way by the white men seeking to rip them off. Racial slurs like "darkie" are heard. Gender-wise, female characters have very little depth and serve mainly as accessories to the males.
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Violence & Scariness
Billy learns to shoot while still a child and sees it as a way to protect his family and be a man and. Lots of old-West gunplay, people get shot and stagger around with bloody wounds. A wagon wreck results in a near-drowning. Attempted rape is depicted. A child sees three men hanged in front of him by an angry mob. Women are seen bruised and bloodied after being attacked. Fists fly on the regular in knock-down fights. A character fakes suicide to escape from jail. A dynamite explosion injures one man and blows the eyeball out of another, who dies.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Billy's mom is told that women have two choices in life: "to whore or to get married." She's depicted as a saint while sex workers are depicted as topless background props or punching bags for men. There are a few sex scenes, with the woman seen fully nude in silhouette, a man's bare bottom is visible. The lone female member of an outlaw gang is characterized as a bad-boy groupie, existing only to cause tension between the males.
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Expletives of every type are heard, as are racial slurs and misogynistic language.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Plenty of scenes take place in smoky bars where cigar-chomping gamblers down whiskey and fall down drunk. A wagon driver is shown knocking back booze before attempting to assault one of his passengers. Characters drink to excess and wake up to find they've been robbed; people guzzle champagne to escape their problems.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Billy the Kid is full of the racist and sexist characterizations typical of many Westerns, with slurs and expletives flying on the regular. Women are seen fully nude in (fairly tame) sex scenes; a man's bare butt is visible. Characters drink to excess and smoke cigars in grimy saloons. Men leer at and harass women verbally and physically. Violent content includes gunplay, fist fights, attempted rape, armed robberies, and hangings, along with environmental threats like deadly snakes, dust storms, and near-drownings.
Is It Any Good?
The real-life inspiration for this series was by all accounts a thief and murderer, recast here in his eight-episode origin story as a tragic victim of circumstance with an eye for justice and honor. Billy the Kid isn't the first show to mythologize a mysterious historical figure like this, and definitely breaks no new ground when it comes to its depictions of minorities and women. Obviously, opportunities were limited and life was not kind to either group during this time period, but the way the series uses them as props to shade in Billy's humanity -- while not actually allowing them to develop as two-dimensional characters -- is lazy and reductive.
Whatever action the show presents doesn't help alleviate things, either, as the show's pacing is a dull slog going through the same tiresome motions of every other cowboy tale you've seen. In a post-Deadwood world, you've really got to bring something new and nuanced to the table when it comes to Westerns on TV and unfortunately, Billy isn't nearly up to the task.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.