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Father Knows Best
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the classic series Father Knows Best is pretty mild when it comes to iffy topics, but reflects overtly sexist and subtly racist attitudes by today's standards. It also contains lots of positive messages about family, respect, and love. Drinking and cigarette smoking is visible. Mild sibling rivalry is featured, as well as conversations about dating, and other rites of passage.
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What's the story?
The classic series FATHER KNOWS BEST (1954 -1960) is a situation comedy about the day-to-day antics of the Andersons, a middle-class nuclear family living in the fictitious suburban town of Springfield. Insurance salesman Jim Anderson (Robert Young) heads up the tight-knit gang, which includes his wife Margaret (Jane Wyatt), teenage daughter Betty (Elinor Donahue), his teen son Bud (Billy Gray), and "Kitten," his precocious youngest daughter Kathy (played by Lauren Chapin). From making sure that Bud knows how to dance in time for the spring formal, to testing his marriage by teaching Margaret how to drive, Jim helps his family through their ups and downs, and makes the most of every event to teach the family about the best way to handle every situation that comes their way.
Is it any good?
Like most 1950s sitcoms, Father Knows Best reflects the norms and values that were deemed socially acceptable at the time. It stays away from topics that were deemed too controversial, and focuses on lighthearted and mostly positive stories about growing up and traditional rites of passage. It offers lots of teachable moments, too -- especially when it comes to behaving responsibly and facing the consequences of ones' actions when one does not.
However, the few secondary characters of non-white racial/ethnic backgrounds are often characterized as outsiders and/or untrustworthy. Meanwhile, girls are taught life lessons about being ladies, which includes preparing for marriage, and accepting the inappropriateness of pursuing careers outside of teaching and/or secretarial jobs. But when understood within the context of the time, it is also possible to appreciate the positive messages it offers about love and respect, especially when it comes to family.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about situation comedies. How have they evolved over the years? How have they stayed the same? Do you have any favorite classic sitcoms? How similar (or different) are they to your favorite sitcoms from today?
How have social attitudes about race and gender changed over the years? How does television reflect these changes? Do TV shows today feature and/or perpetuate fewer stereotypes than those in the 1950s?
Themes & Topics
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