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Highway to Heaven
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 main characters in this drama are an angel (who looks human) and his human companion, who travel the country on orders from God to change people's lives for the better. The show's ever-changing content is often emotionally charged, with plots centering on issues like coping with a loved one's death, facing the uncertainty of aging, and dealing with broken relationships. When the subject matter calls for it, language and violence can be very strong (in one episode, racial slurs include the n-word and multiple substitutes, and a teen is shot by a police officer), but the iffy stuff is integral to the show's positive moral messages. This is an excellent choice for parents to share with older tweens and teens, as it brings up lots of great discussion topics.
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What's the story?
In HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN, an angel in human form and his very human companion follow orders from a higher power to help guide people through stressful times in their lives. Angelic Jonathan Smith (Michael Landon) and his friend, ex-cop Mark Gordon (Victor French), travel the country on assignment from God -- whom they call "The Boss." In each episode, they wander into the lives of men and women who need some help coping with grief, anger, or guilt. Jonathan and Mark establish relationships with their subjects (who never suspect that the duo are anything but drifters), gain their trust, and lend a hand (and a shoulder) when it's needed. Along the way, Jonathan offers some subtly divine intervention through lots of moralistic straight-talk that changes the lives of those he meets. Once they've completed their task, he and Mark head down the highway again, on their way to a new assignment.
Is it any good?
Despite its title, Highway to Heaven's focus is on addressing moral issues rather than religious ones, so it appeals to a broad audience. References to God are uncommon (as mentioned, he's almost always called "The Boss"), and when Jonathan speaks in prayer, he rarely addresses anyone in particular, more often seeming like he's talking to the wind. The show tackles serious topics like family distress, unplanned pregnancy, the death of a loved one, and murder. Storylines are often emotionally charged, and depending on an episode's subject matter, both language and violence can escalate. For example, an episode that addressed racial bigotry and law enforcement's racial profiling included multiple degrading terms (like the n-word) and culminated in the shooting death of an African-American teen. While disturbing, the content was integral to the seriousness of the plot and the impact of the message.
Given the varying content of each installment, parents may want to at least scan episode descriptions before allowing younger kids to watch. But the show's overwhelmingly positive lessons are inescapable, and parents who watch with older tweens and teens will probably find themselves having interesting discussions about the many issues each episode raises.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the many questions inspired by each episode's topic. How would you respond if you were faced with the characters' challenges? How do kids react to difficult situations? From where and whom do they draw their strength? Families can also discuss their own spiritual beliefs. How can faith help in times of stress? Do you believe there are angels among us? What other ways have religion and faith been portrayed on TV? How do the media treat religion and faith in general?