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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ratched is a series by Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story) loosely based around the character Nurse Ratched from 1975's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. In this series, a younger Nurse Ratched takes a job at a mental health facility after her younger brother is committed there following a mass murder. We see the murders in a scene that's typical of Ratched's violence: Priests are stabbed in the neck and stomach, their heads bashed until they die; we see a bloody dead body in a tub, and see blood spurting and in pools on the ground. There are other scenes of violent death, and many scenes that involve medical abuse: A patient is trapped in a tub full of boiling water; patients are lobotomized in front of a crowd with an ice pick and a drill. A recurring theme is that authority is not to be trusted, with duplicitous characters who misuse power in the political and medical fields. Sexual content is also mature, with same- and opposite-sex kissing, flirting, and dating, and scenes in which characters have sex with rhythmic motions and moans (though no nudity). The show's LGBTQ+ characters are treated as if they have mental disorders, and doctors and nurses try to "cure" their sexuality (we understand that these medical professionals are in the wrong, however). Most characters have hidden motivations and will do anything, up to and including murder, to realize their aims. Language is infrequent: "damn," "hell," "s--t." Scenes take place in bars with characters drinking; no one acts drunk. Characters take prescribed medications and also take or are given inappropriate medications. Many characters smoke cigarettes.
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What's the story?
Co-created by Evan Romansky and Ryan Murphy, RATCHED is loosely based on the character of Nurse Ratched, originally played by Louise Fletcher in the 1970s classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. In this reimagining, Nurse Ratched is played by Sarah Paulson, an implacable nurse who bullies her way into a job at the Lucia State Hospital after her brother, Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock), is confined there following a murderous rampage. There, under the supervision of severe and suspicious Nurse Bucket (Judy Davis) and duplicitous Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Briones), Nurse Ratched treats both patients and everyone else around her in her own special and unorthodox style.
Is it any good?
Sarah Paulson is always compelling and magnetic, and the vibrant period costumes and settings look like a million bucks, but the muddled plot and characterizations doom this series to "meh" status. The first problem is in Ratched's conception. The brilliance of Fletcher's Oscar-winning performance in the original Cuckoo's Nest was that her character was hardly human at all: She was a cog in an inhuman machine that ground its patients down, and she was as merciless as the machine itself. Giving her a backstory to make her more sympathetic is not only beside the point, it's counter to it. Then, too, this version of Nurse Ratched's story is too goofy to make logical sense: We don't understand who this character is and why she does what she does. She's sympathetic and maternal one moment, an uptight scold in another, robotically calculating at other times. Paulson is good enough to make her character ring true in each individual scene, but her motivation doesn't make sense, so she's tough to root for.
There are other over-the-top and yet nonsensical characters hanging around: Finn Wittrock's deranged murderer, Judy Davis as Ratched's rival Nurse Bucket, Sharon Stone swanning around with a monkey on her shoulder, Cynthia Nixon as a political operative who attempts a romance with Ratched. What a great cast! And in their sherbert-hued suits, minty-green medical uniforms, and matching hats for every ensemble, they all look great. So does the California coast where the show's central mental hospital is located, while the hospital itself looks more like an elegant old hotel than any type of facility. There are effective moments of horror, like one awful scene in which four patients are given lobotomies in front of a crowd of onlookers; viewers aware that this particular scene is not too far from literal truth will enjoy its spooky chill. But though Ratched comes alive in some scenes, it ultimately fails to hang together and make either logical or emotional sense, so the impact is less than the sum of its parts.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the social and political climate of the 1940s and the themes of racism, sexism, and homophobia in Ratched. How do these period cultural outlooks affect how patients are treated? Is that treatment realistic? True to history? Read up on how LGBTQ+ patients were treated in the 1940s, and on the history of lobotomy as a psychological treatment. How does this actual history inform the show's horror?
How does Ratched's presence on a streaming service allow it to push the envelope when it comes to violence, language, and sexual content? What would the show look like if it were to air on network television? How would it have to change?
Ratched co-creator Ryan Murphy has made many TV shows. How is this one similar to other Murphy shows? Consider the setting, costumes, characters, and plotlines in your answer. Is this show a departure for Murphy, or par for the course?
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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.
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