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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 this reality series offers an unflinching look at what happens when people are arrested -- and it's definitely not fun. The inmates are often drunk or high and frequently violent. They pick fights with each other, attack the guards, and, if they're alone in an isolation cell, may even bang their heads against the wall in sheer frustration. Though there's no audible bad language (just lots of bleeps), and not much actual bloodshed, there's a palpable sense of tension in every episode as the guards try to maintain control. This tense show definitely isn't for younger kids, but its shock value could act as an incentive for teens to toe the line.
What's the story?
First came Cops, one of TV's very first reality shows, which featured police officers on duty arresting criminals and troublemakers. But what happens after the squad cars drive off with the bad boys in the backseat? JAIL, of course. This series -- from the same team behind Cops -- follows people who are confined during the period between arrest and trial and adheres to the same format. There's little narration other than guards explaining their job, and plenty of action when inmates act out. Though the vast majority of the inmates are probably just trying to quietly get by, those aren't the folks who get much screen time -- because there's no "excitement" in watching them. Instead, the show focuses on the ones who cause trouble.
Is it any good?
"We never know what to expect when the next person walks in the door," says a guard at the Orient Road Jail, in Tampa, Fla. But anyone who's ever seen Cops can predict what will happen on Jail. Some inmates will misbehave, some will pick fights, many will be drunk or high or both. And the guards will have to come down on them.
Though the level of violence on Jail is lower than on most fictional dramas, it seems much more intense because it's obviously very real. When half a dozen guards struggle to restrain an angry, drunken inmate, it looks much more dangerous than any martial arts fistfight -- even though nobody seems to get hurt -- and might upset younger viewers. Still, letting kids see what really happens to people who break the law might not be such a bad thing.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the criminal justice system. Lots of shows focus on the process of tracking down criminals, the court process, or the long years in prison. This is one of the few to look solely at the brief period between arrest and trial. How does jail differ from prison? What would be the worst part of being locked up? What is this show trying to accomplish? Also, how does this show compare to Cops, one of the original reality shows, which was created by the same people?