A lot or a little?
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch is a variety show-style Netflix special starring John Mulaney and an ensemble cast of kids, tweens, and celebrity guests. Mulaney touts the show as being "for kids, by adults," but certain aspects of the content skew it toward older tweens, teens, and adults. Expect a few instances of strong language ("hell" and "dammit," plus some name-calling), occasional references to violent matters (a story speaks of a grandmother shooting her boyfriend, for instance), and a single mention of breasts as it relates to a person's sketch of a woman. This show uses a variety of comic devices and styles to entertain its audience, including songs, skits, and funny games that bridge different segments.
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What's the story?
In JOHN MULANEY & THE SACK LUNCH BUNCH, comedian John Mulaney hosts a variety show with a cast of kids and tweens. The special features comedy skits, musical numbers, interviews with cast members and celebrities, goofy guessing game segues, and casual conversational clips between Mulaney and his young costars. Stage and screen stars like Richard Kind, Andre De Shields, and Jake Gyllenhaal lend their talents to several of the sketches as well.
Is it any good?
This Netflix special is something out of left field, if left field refers to (as Mulaney suggests) a bygone era of TV where adults are outnumbered by ensemble casts of kids and generally play to their humor level. Mulaney's comedy precision is evident throughout John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch even when he's not onstage. With few exceptions, the sketches are quite short and to the point, delivering laughs and insight without a lot of fancy trappings but always with high production value. What's more, the variety show format always tends to help sell projects that stray from the norm because of its rapid-fire delivery of different entertainment styles. If a particular skit or song doesn't strike your fancy, another totally unrelated one will follow that might.
That said, Mulaney isn't quite specific enough when he promotes the show as designed "for kids, by adults, with kids present." While much of the content is OK for general family viewing and often touches on predicaments kids will get, there are some parts (occasional language, references to violent or scary themes, etc.) that aren't great for a young crowd and others whose humor won't resonate even with tweens. Clearly the point is to maintain adults' attention throughout, and that's a difficult thing to do while simultaneously creating a show for kids. Mulaney, his cast, and his talented celebrity guests do well by the content they have, but this special is the best fit for older tweens and teens along with adult viewers.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch's target audience. What evidence exists that it is "for kids," as Mulaney says? Will kids get the humor in it? Which sketches are most appropriate for a younger audience? Overall, will it hold the attention of kids? What about adults?
Did you recognize the celebrities who had parts in the show? To what degree is familiarity with famous guests an important draw to you in watching? Are you inspired to check out any of the stars' other work now that you've seen them in this capacity?
What elements of creative vision do you see at play in the actors' work onscreen and in the writers' efforts behind the scenes? How do actors have to be adaptable to different styles in order to perform well in a setting like this one? What other character strengths like perseverance do you imagine are important in the performing arts?
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