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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 Fawlty Towers is a short-lived 1970s-era British comedy series. Although the comedy is mostly clean-cut, it's an acquired taste for American viewers because of its age and roots in British culture. Expect some playful banter of a sexual nature (mention of "getting lucky" and other hanky-panky) that stands in hilarious contrast to Basil's uptight personality. A Spanish character is steeped in stereotypes -- including the language barrier that leads to plenty of laughable mishaps -- but it's meant to be funny, not hurtful.
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What's the story?
FAWLTY TOWERS stars John Cleese as Basil Fawlty, a miserly hotel proprietor yearning to elevate his own social standing and to attract a more elite clientele. Unfortunately his efforts to do so often mean he neglects the needs of his average paying customers, much to the irritation of his practical wife, Sybil (Prunella Scales). Also lending a hand in the hotel are Polly (Connie Booth), the maid, and the jovial but mishap-prone Spanish waiter, Manuel (Andrew Sachs). A parade of eccentric guests keeps Basil on his toes with outlandish requests and one calamity after another.
Is it any good?
Fawlty Towers delivers classic British comedy by way of Cleese's delightfully neurotic character, whose attempts to advance his business always backfire in hilarious ways. His brilliance in the role is matched by the acerbic Sybil, who always manages to keep Basil under her thumb and dismantle even his best-laid plans. Their contentious relationship yields funny TV, even as it contradicts the very tenets of marital bliss.
Because this show's laughs generally are byproducts of eccentric characters, exaggerated scenarios, and running jokes about Basil's rudeness, its content will go over the heads of kids and tweens. But if your teens take an interest enough to see past the show's dated feel, rest assured that its content is proper enough that there's nothing to fear in letting them dabble in this classic.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how comedy reflects its time and place. What can this show teach you about British society in the 1970s? How different is the humor from what you're used to? Is it fair to make generalizations based on one example?
Is it possible to avoid stereotypes altogether in entertainment? What examples are present here? What are they based on? Have our sensitivities to this kind of content changed over time? If so, is this necessarily good or bad?
Central to this show's laughs is an argumentative marriage between Basil and Sybil. In general, do you find that the shows and movies you watch give an accurate impression of relationships? How would such a relationship play out in the real world?