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Dickinson

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Dickinson TV Poster Image
Brilliant teen series is destined for immortality.

Parents say

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Kids say

age 13+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Messages of empathy and self-control show through the series' focus on what's expected of women vs. their own desires, and the compromises they make to fit in. Women are treated sympathetically and their work and lives are taken seriously. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Emily Dickinson is a fierce and independent woman who chafes under the bonds society places on her, though she can also be selfish, like when she insists her family hire a maid so she doesn't have to work. Her parents alternately support her ("Emily doesn't have to marry anyone as far as I'm concerned," says her father) and denigrate her, like when her dad tells her that getting a poem published might ruin the "good name" of Dickinson. Emily's father Edward is a stalwart man who loves his daughter, but has very definite ideas about what women, including her, should and should not do. Her mother is a discontented woman who finds fault with Emily constantly and believes women should hold very constrained roles in society. Her sister Lavinia is generally the butt of jokes and is silly and a little dim; brother Austin is much the same. Attitudes about women and people of color are period-correct, but some things may be tough to hear, like when Mr. Dickinson says "slavery is wrong" but there's room for "compromise" on the matter. 

Violence

A woman plucks chicken feathers from a dead, hanging bird, and in another scene, a man holds a chicken and then we hear the sound of an axe falling as Emily covers her eyes and the camera cuts to raw chicken parts.  

Sex

Romance is at the center of this story, and two women are having a secret affair. Expect kissing (same- and opposite-sex), flirting, extensive talk about marriage, and scenes such as one in which a woman reaches beneath another's nightgown and we see the face of her partner as she responds ecstatically, and imagery of volcanoes exploding. In another scene, a woman lying down in hay screams "Yes!" and a man's head peeps out, smiling, from beneath her skirts. 

Language

Language and cursing is infrequent but includes "bulls--t," "hell," and "dammit." A woman is called a "freak" and a "weirdo."  

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking and smoking is period-correct, but both teens and adults smoke cigarettes and pipes onscreen. In a fantasy sequence, Emily shares a joint with Death. Teens at a party take droplets of opium. No one experiences consequences from the drugs besides embarrassing themselves. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dickinson is a dramedy that imagines beloved poet Emily Dickinson as a rebellious teen and contains some mature content. Teens in the show talk in modern speech but wear period-correct dress and are concerned with period-correct subjects such as marriage. However, they also do such modern things as having affairs and taking drugs at parties, like in an episode in which Emily and her siblings and friends throw a house party and take opium. In other scenes, teens and adults drink and smoke cigarettes and pipes. Sexual content is mature but very little skin and no actual sexual contact is shown besides passionate same- and opposite-sex kissing. A typical scene shows two women in bed, and one reaches under the other's skirt; the camera then cuts to her partner's ecstatic face and footage of exploding volcanoes. Two women have an affair, despite the fact that one of them is engaged to the brother of the other. Emily's mother pressures her to marry as soon as possible, and to "know her place" as an obedient mom, wife, and housewife. Violence is rare, but we do see a chicken being plucked and a man preparing to cut a chicken's head off (the camera cuts away before the blow). Language is infrequent but includes "bulls--t," "dammit," and "hell." Lines about the "proper place" of women and people of color may be hard to hear, but are period-correct and the show's sympathies are clearly with the downtrodden. Characters demonstrate empathy and self-control as they work to find ways to live authentic lives despite repressive social expectations. 

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written byMr. TEP November 6, 2019
Teen, 14 years old Written byadyn077 November 4, 2019

BEST SHOW EVER!

This is one of the best shows ever, although it may have some context that is inappropriate, it all depends on if you’re mature or not. There are many kissing s... Continue reading

What's the story?

In our time, Emily DICKINSON is one of the most celebrated poets in history. But in the late nineteenth century, Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) was just a frustrated teen, living with her celebrated town-father dad (Toby Huss) and her disappointed mother (Jane Krakoswki). Her parents want her to settle down, learn how to be a good housekeeper, get married, and have kids, in that order. But Emily wants something more, and passionately writes poetry all alone in her room. One of her frequent subjects: best friend/secret lover Sue Gilbert (Ella Hunt), who's engaged to Emily's brother Austin (Adrian Enscoe), but in the meantime is Emily's favorite (and sometimes only) partner in crime. 

Is it any good?

Destined to take its place amongst such teen TV classics as My So-Called Life and Freaks and Geeks, this series is fresh, original, gorgeously loopy -- and absolutely enchanting. Hailee Stanfield makes a mesmerizing Emily Dickinson, all hemmed-in outsize longings in an era when women weren't supposed to feel such things, particularly for same-sex best friends engaged to one's brother. But Sue and Emily have an undeniable spark, and watching them inhabit one of the most joyful queer relationships ever depicted on the small screen is one of Dickinson's distinct delights. When Sue and Emily don a dead acquaintance's male clothing to sneak into a no-women-allowed Amherst lecture, the two are so electrically happy to experience a few moments of freedom together that they dance around the room, elated. "Why would men want to bar women from learning?" wonders Sue. "Maybe they're afraid if we figure out how the world works, we'll take over," returns Emily.

Later, what they learn about volcanoes in said lecture comes back to bear, as Sue tells Emily that she can relate to that kind of earth-shattering explosion -- and shows her, in a transcendently sexy scene that depicts Emily having her first orgasm. Didn't expect that in a drama about Emily Dickinson, did you? The teens of Dickinson talk to each other in modern speech ("What up, Emily?"), they throw a riotous house party with opiates, makeout sessions, and twerking, and they're rebellious and bursting with energy in a way that feels genuine. We all know how Emily's story is going to turn out -- she died a recluse with a trunk full of poetry no one even knew she was writing -- but it sure is a delight to meet her as a teen with her whole life ahead of her. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about period TV shows. Where is it acceptable to draw the line between historical retellings and pure fiction? What purpose does a highly dramatized story like this one play? Can Dickinson be relied on to teach viewers anything? Would it have been more or less successful if the entire story was contrived?

  • Emily Dickinson lived during a period when wealthy women weren't encouraged to work or have interests other than marriage and children. How did that affect her life and her literary output? How are these constraints depicted on this show? Is Emily easy to relate to? Do women in this day and age share her concerns and problems? How would her life be different if she were not rich and connected? 

  • How do the characters in Dickinson learn and demonstrate empathy and self-control? Why are those important character strengths?

TV details

Character Strengths

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