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 educational documentary series covers a broad range of topics; some are completely innocuous, while others touch on more complicated and mature issues, including war, slavery, and sex (images of sex toys and all). That said, even the trickiest issues are dealt with carefully and remain appropriate for most middle-schoolers. Disturbing scenes are usually illustrated using archival photographs and artistic renditions (for instance, the episode on "death devices" shows illustrations of men and women subjected to stoning, the rack, and other early death-sentence methods). Descriptions of death can be graphic, but they're not sensational.
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What's the story?
MODERN MARVELS is a History Channel series designed for the classroom and other educational settings. But despite the institutional emphasis, the documentary-style show is enlightening to a broad audience interested in learning about relatively recent inventions -- both physical and cultural. Covering topics as diverse as fireworks, roller coasters, butchers, high-tech sex, deadly weapons, and the Statue of Liberty, the series delves into each one using a combination of archival footage, interviews with experts, original documents, and conversations with people actively involved in the subject.
Is it any good?
Using so many different materials to tell a particular invention's history ensures that just about everyone in the audience will find something captivating, whether it's the historical documents or the man-on-the-street interviews. For example, the fireworks episode begins by recounting China's invention of gunpowder, then shows original artwork depicting early fireworks displays, and finally moves on to interviews with the current president of the American Pyrotechnics Association -- as well as showing footage of one of the legendary families responsible for some of the United States' most memorable fireworks celebrations.
Parents looking for a way to advance their child's interest in a subject will find a treasure in Modern Marvels -- though it's definitely worth noting that some episodes tackle decidedly more mature topics (one included images of sex toys; others have shown pictures of nuclear bombs being set off and the like) than others. And an hour on a single topic can wear thin for viewers who don't have a particular interest in the subject or related issues.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the "modern marvels" they'd like to know more about. Is there a particular cultural institution or invention you're curious about? Aside from watching a TV show, how else can you find out about subjects that interest you? Who can you talk to about getting more information on subjects that fascinate you? Do you think shows like these tell the whole story? How and why do you think episode topics are chosen?