A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
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
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 & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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Language and cursing is infrequent but includes "bulls--t," "hell," and "dammit." A woman is called a "freak" and a "weirdo."
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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.
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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.
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.
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.