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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Bonus Family is a Swedish dramedy about a blended family with children. It's in Swedish, with subtitles. As is typical with European TV shows, content is more mature than what you might see on an American family TV show: Characters refer to sex frankly, and kiss and grope each other enthusiastically; characters are shown on the toilet (no nudity) and taking a pregnancy test. Language is also somewhat rough, with multiple uses of "f--k" and "s--t," including four-letter words from an 11-year-old boy. Expect to hear other words like "damn," "goddammit," and "piss." Two male rivals are particularly aggressive with each other. They insult each other, posture, and refer to punches and fistfights from the past. Adults drink at social occasions, and a man refers to drinking to relax for a difficult social moment. Characters are realistically depicted, too: They are honest about the challenges of divorce and creating new families, often hostile to each other, but are ultimately focused on supporting the kids.
What's the story?
Once upon a time, Lisa (Vera Vitali) and Martin (Fredrik Hallgren) were married; so were Patrik (Erik Johansson) and Katja (Petra Mede). Then Lisa and Patrik fell in love, and got together -- and now all four adults are raising their BONUS FAMILY (Bonusfamiljen in the original Swedish) together, for better or for worse. It's not perfect, that's for sure -- Martin is still in love with his ex, Patrik resents Martin's presence and personality, and Katja is pretty much permanently furious. The kids, too, are suffering. Young Eddie (Frank Dorsin) can't stand his new stepdad or his goody-goody new same-age stepbrother, Wille (Jacob Lundqvist); Wille is making the best of things, but for his part can't understand why his dad is living in a new place and having a new baby with Lisa. Meanwhile, teenaged Bianca (Amanda Lindh) is in the midst of her own rebellion -- and battling her dad, Martin, at every turn. Their families have changed, and it's made problems for everyone. But ultimately, they're going to have to stick together and figure out a way to thrive.
Is it any good?
A massive hit in its native Scandinavia, this exceptional drama examines the emotional fallout of a divorce in a manner that's alternately painful and funny, but always realistic. When the married Lisa had an affair with an equally married Patrik, she didn't intend to tear two families apart. Yet when the two started their own family, that's precisely what happened, and now everyone is only occasionally able to pretend everything is just fine for the kids. More often, the tension shows -- and Bonus Family does an absolutely terrific job of illustrating how the strain of small things can quickly turn a tense situation into a toxic one. In the show's first episode, Wille and Erik are both turning 11. Wouldn't it be nice to throw the boys a joint party, with the whole family in attendance? It sounds like a great idea, until the negotiations drag on for weeks, and the party ultimately results in an accident that lands both birthday boys in the hospital.
The painful truth that Bonus Family understands is that no matter how gently parents handle a divorce, the pain it causes is still real. And even Lisa and Patrik, the two people most committed to the idea that their fairy tale of a love story surely has to end in happily-ever-after, start to understand how their children, and their own relationships to the children, are deeply affected by their actions. But, choices made, everyone's struggling to find a way to make things better, with festering wounds underneath a veneer of fake smiles -- yet also with a deep, real love that occasionally shines through and wins the day. This sharp but sweet show doesn't look or sound like American sitcoms -- and viewers will love it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Bonus Family is different from American shows about families. Were you surprised by the levels of sex, language, and violence? Did you find the characters and scenarios realistic?
Is it more difficult to watch a show when it's subtitled? Do viewers have to work harder to watch? Does it add to or detract from your enjoyment?
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