Shuga

TV review by
Jenny Nixon, Common Sense Media
Shuga TV Poster Image
Edgy, educational soap set in Africa addresses big issues.

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive messages

Themes of self-respect, perseverance, courage, and honesty are highlighted.

Positive role models & representations

These characters are complex and imperfect, just like real teens. They make mistakes, sure, but they also grow as a result, learning how to demonstrate compassion, strength, and dignity.

Violence

Though the scenes aren't as fully explicit (or bloody) as on some shows, there are definitely some darker moments. A teenager is mugged and left with scratches on her face. Another character is shown being hit by her boyfriend (rape is heavily implied), and there is some blood. Also, two characters are victims of nonconsensual sexual activity: One discovers that the man she's just slept with took the condom off without informing her, and a character is secretly taped and stripped of her clothing while she is unconscious.

Sex

No nudity to speak of, but there are frequent sexual references (references to "getting laid," losing one's virginity) and some simulated sex scenes. One character is shown "sexting" with her teacher. One discovers that the man she's just slept with took the condom off without informing her (which is technically rape), and a character is secretly taped and stripped of her clothing while she is unconscious. A few scenes take place in family planning clinics, where there are frank discussions about STDs and birth control methods. One character purchases "abortion pills" on the black market, and another struggles with his feelings for other men.

Consumerism

One storyline centers on a girl who seeks a "sugar daddy" to give her a smartphone, nice clothes, and jewelry in exchange for sexual favors.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Several scenes of teenagers and adults drinking alcohol; one shot of a hookah at an outdoor party. A girl is force-fed alcohol by an abusive boyfriend (who then violates her while she's unconscious). A teen mom is shown dipping a pacifier in rum and giving it to her 2-year-old before leaving him home alone while she heads to a party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Shuga is an Africa-based soap opera that's part of a worldwide educational initiative focused on sexual and reproductive health. It's produced by MTV in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others. Expect frank storylines about subjects such as teen pregnancy, homosexuality, and HIV. Teen characters act like real kids (meaning, they don't always do the right thing), but there are realistic consequences, and the show doesn't shy away from that. There are some violent moments, as the show deals with abusive relationships and rape, so concerned parents may want to check out the episodes beforehand. Things can get intense at times, but the subject matter is handled in a responsible and mature way that makes this show an excellent choice for teens.

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What's the story?

MTV's SHUGA is something akin to a super-informative sex-ed class disguised as a binge-worthy soap opera, set in Africa. Earlier seasons focused on the lives and loves of college students (including a young, pre-Academy Award-winning Lupita N'yongo) and young adults in Kenya and Nigeria, and the latest season has shifted its focus to South Africa. Each season is 12 episodes long, with storylines encompassing issues such as transactional sex, HIV testing, homosexuality, condom use, and gender inequality. The script is entirely in English, with some regional slang thrown in on occasion (and subtitled). Some of the recurring characters include Femi (Emmanuel Ikubese), a club manager living with HIV; Zamo (Lerato Walaza), a social media-obsessed party girl who also happens to be a teen mom; and Reggie (Given Stuurman), a talented graffiti artist coming to terms with his homosexuality.

Is it any good?

With sharp writing and an attractive yet real-looking cast, this show does a terrific job of blending socially conscious themes with truly addictive storytelling. These kids are lovable, though still believably flawed, and it's hard not to get wrapped up in their problems and triumphs. Shuga isn't afraid to tackle tough situations, and, just as in real life, not every resolution is a clean and happy one. This show could easily be considered a sort of thematic cousin to the Degrassi series, which does a similarly great job of addressing difficult topics such as bullying and molestation, while keeping things engaging and entertaining for viewers. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the complex situations young adults like the ones in Shuga face when they become sexually active. How do you deal with peer pressure? How do drugs and alcohol complicate these situations?

  • What can families learn from watching Shuga? Do you think the way the show portrays young peoples' lives is accurate to your own experience? How does it differ?

  • Several of the characters on Shuga feel they can't go to their parents for advice or don't have parents there to begin with. Where would you turn if you had a question about sex or relationships?

  • How do characters on this show demonstrate compassion and communication? Why are these important character strengths

TV details

Character Strengths

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