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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 Mercy Street is a Civil War hospital-set miniseries that contains strong content, including very graphic images of bloody injuries and surgeries and frequent use of the "N" word. Prostitution, the use of morphine, corruption, and slavery are also addressed. It's too intense for younger or sensitive viewers, but teens interested in the Civil War or historical dramas may find it worth the watch.
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What's the story?
Based on real events, MERCY STREET is a PBS original miniseries about an inexperienced New England nurse and ardent abolitionist working in the South during the Civil War. Mary Phinney (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), aka Baroness Von Olnhausen, left Boston after being widowed to nurse Union officers back to health. Sent to serve as the head nurse at Mansion House, an Alexandria luxury hotel that now serves as the area’s Union Army Hospital, she must quickly adapt to the horrendous conditions while negotiating her place among Army doctors such as surgeon Byron Hale (Norbert Leo Butz), the more modern, civilian doctor Jedediah Foster (Josh Radnor), and the arrogant Nurse Anne Hastings (Tara Summers), who worked with Florence Nightingale in Crimea. Luckily, the kind chaplain, Henry Hopkins (Luke McFarlane), and laborer Samuel Diggs (McKinley Belcher III), a free man with a secret medical background, offer her support. As she works hard to keep going, she crosses paths with Emma Green (Hannah James), the naive adult daughter of the Southern loyalist hotel owner, who is struggling to find her place in the Union stronghold, which marks the beginning of an inevitably changing South.
Is it any good?
This intense series, which is based on the real Mary Phinney's memoirs, shows how gritty life was in a Civil War hospital. Although the show is fictional, the stories based on Phinney's writings and other published memoirs of the era offer some insight into the way medicine was practiced at the time, as well as the way the turbulent political, economic, and social climate of the time affected the lives of those living in the Southern border town.
It takes on a soap-opera-like quality at times thanks to its extensive cast of characters and the way their past and present lives intersect. Adding to this is the vast mix of story lines, which range from doomed romances and spying to disturbing narratives about corrupt officers and lingering slavery practices. There’s also lots of blood and gore thanks to the endless images of horribly injured and dying soldiers. But these scenes are offered in context and help create a loosely accurate -- albeit entertainingly polished -- portrayal of what doctors and volunteer nurses had to endure during this difficult time.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what it was like to practice medicine during the Civil War era. What kinds of medical procedures and medicines were available at the time? Given how rudimentary they were at the time, how did people survive?
Television shows and films often use documented historical accounts to tell entertaining stories. How do you think media should represent people and past events? How many liberties can be taken with history?
For kids who love drama
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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.