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 police series In the Heat of the Night (1988-1995) is pretty mild by today’s standards but still addresses an array of mature topics, including racism, bigotry, infidelity, rape, and incest. There’s no gore, but guns are visible and dead bodies are shown. It also contains some mild sexual innuendo and occasional drinking.
What's the story?
Based on the 1965 novel and 1967 film of the same title, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1988-1995) is a police-themed drama series set in the fictitious town of Sparta, Mississippi. When police detective Virgil Tibbs (Howard Rollins) returns to Sparta to attend his mother’s funeral, he is persuaded by police chief William Gillespie (Caroll O’Connor) to remain in Sparta and become the local chief of detectives. Thanks to some racial tensions in the squad and a lack of training among officers such as Captain “Bubba” Skinner (Alan Autry), Parker Williams (David Hart), Junior Abernathy (Christian LeBlanc), and Lonnie Jamison (Hugh O’Connor), heading up investigations isn’t always easy. Tibbs and Gillespie don’t always see eye to eye, either. But their commitment to enforcing the law pushes them to rise above and resolve their cases one crime at a time.
Is it any good?
This thoughtful, folksy police procedural offers some insight into the contemporary South, where change and modernization are often tinged with racial undercurrents and conservative ways of thinking. In an effort to highlight these tensions, the show purposely addresses controversial issues that range from incest to AIDS. In doing so, it highlights the community’s persisting attitudes about them and notes the ways they're shifting. It also attempts to do so without relying on traditional stereotypes.
New characters, leadership transitions, and other changes over the years kept the show relevant for its time. However, there’s a good chance that today’s TV audiences (particularly younger ones) will find the pace a bit slow, especially when compared to today's police dramas. The humor might seem pretty hokey, too. Nonetheless, those who do watch will find a perceptive glimpse of life in the South over 25 years ago.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the South. What are some of the stereotypes about the region? Does this series perpetuate them or challenge them?
What are some of the differences between TV police dramas from 25 or 30 years ago and what’s airing today? Is it the storytelling style? The level of violence? The subject matter?
What kinds of things can you learn from TV shows that aired many years ago, even if they weren’t designed to be educational?
Our editors recommend
For kids who love the big issues
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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