Gold Fever

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Gold Fever TV Poster Image
Informative historical miniseries packs a violent punch.

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The greed, chaos, and violence that characterized the California Gold Rush is discussed in a historical and educational context. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Most prospectors are motivated by greed. Prospectors often resort to devious and violent ways to come out ahead.

Violence

Images of people fighting, getting shot, beaten, and being hanged are featured fairly constantly. Bloody bludgeon, knife, and gunshot wounds are frequently visible. 

Sex

Scenes in brothels feature men flirting and undressing women (but no nudity visible).

Language

Words like "hell" and "damn" audible. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Miners drink (hard liquor), smoke cigars, and spit tobacco.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Gold Fever is a documentary miniseries about the California Gold Rush that's heavy on the violence. There are a lot of reenactments featuring shootings, stabbings, beatings, and hangings (with lots of bloody wounds visible). Drinking, cigar smoking, and tobacco spitting -- accurate to the era -- is also on display. Scenes in brothels show men flirting with and undressing women, but there's no nudity or depictions of sex, and occasionally words like "damn" and "hell" are audible. All of this is offered in a historical and educational context, but it's too intense for younger kids. 

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What's the story?

Created by the producers of The Men Who Built America, Gold Fever is a documentary series that tells the history of the California Gold Rush from the point of view of a group of men who made the journey West to strike it rich. It describes the expedition of the California Mutual Association, a.k.a. the Boston Company, one of thousands of teams of men who banded together to go to California to prospect for gold. Details about their experience (which lasted from 1848 until the fall of 1850) are revealed by historians and experts, including modern-day gold miners. Reenactments of key events also add to the drama. From the dangers they faced while traveling across the country, to coping with the chaotic and violent lawlessness of Northern California once they arrived, their narrative highlights what life was really like during the height of gold fever, and underscores the impact the race for gold had on the American economic landscape.

Is it any good?

Gold Fever takes an interesting look at the height of the Gold Rush in California, which is defined as being an extremely relevant, but violent, event in American history. It also introduces viewers to some of the people who played a major role in how the period evolved, including merchant-turned-opportunistic-millionaire Sam Brannan (played by Brian Ibsen), and Dr. Charles Robinson (Ryan Gilreath), whose treatment for cholera made him a leader among his fellow miners. 

The dramatic reenactments help to understand the gritty and tumultuous the world of the California-based prospector during that time. It also shows the far-reaching impact the era had on the continued economic expansion of the United States. History buffs will definitely enjoy it, and if you can get past the seemingly constant violent images, there's certainly a lot interesting stuff to be learned here. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the ways the California Gold Rush impacted America. What effect did it have on things like railroads and steamships? How did it contribute to making California a state? How were different communities, including Native Americans, affected by it? What are some of the ways the media has chosen to tell the stories of the gold rush over the years?  

  • Is it appropriate to show extremely violent images on TV and film, even if it is in an informative context? Do producers show these images to make educational series more interesting? What kind of impact do these images have on viewers? Do the violent images featured in this documentary make it harder to pay attention to other details being offered about this historic event?

TV details

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For kids who love history

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