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 Marching Orders is a documentary series that goes behind the scenes with the Bethune-Cookman University marching band, one of the top collegiate bands in the country. Some viewers may remember the band from the movie Drumline. The show focuses on the student leaders of various sections of the band and provides examples of many different role models. Apart from some mild language, this inspirational show is great for teens, especially those with an interest in music.
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What's the story?
The new Netflix documentary series Marching Orders follows the elite Bethune-Cookman University Wildcats marching band, collectively called "The Pride," as they prepare for a late-summer Battle of the Bands. The series spotlights three different groups that make up the more than 300-person band: the drum majors, who were made famous in the movie Drumline; the Flag Corp, known as The Sophisticats; and the Dance Team, known as 14K. We learn from soft-spoken but tough-talking band director Donovan Wells that everyone, even if you've been in the band previously, has to audition. He likes making it competitive for the students, because life is competitive, and he only wants the best performers. Through the audition process viewers are introduced to the individuals from each group and get to follow along as they try out and try to keep up with Mr. Wells' grueling practice schedule.
Is it any good?
A rich, fascinating subject is ultimately underserved by this series' much too brief running time. Each episode runs between 10 and 13 minutes long, and it never feels like enough time to explore any person, situation, or relationship with any kind of depth. Having access to 300 college students all trying to work together and maintain a legacy of greatness should provide fertile territory for compelling storytelling.
Unfortunately, the makers give the viewer very little historical context about the band to keep the audience invested in their success. We hear that the band has played at the Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl and that they're the champions, but it's never clear how long this legacy has lasted, or why, out of all the historically black colleges in Florida, this school has produced such a successful band program. Instead, the show features lots of practice footage with the band members spouting platitudes about how hard you have to work and how fortunate they are to be part of the band. It's inspirational, for sure, but what could have been an eye-opening, inside look at the complexities of college-level band performance and the ways that participating impacts the lives of the students winds up being a pretty superficial treatment of the subject matter.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Marching Orders deals with female body issues. The subject comes up a few times during the show, especially in regard to the band uniforms. Mr. Wells, the band director, comes up with a solution. What do you think of his solution? Was it fair? Is there another way the situation could have been handled?
Families can talk about music. How does it bring people together?
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