Stories from the Vaults

TV review by
Anne Louise Bannon, Common Sense Media
Stories from the Vaults TV Poster Image
Poking around America's attic for lively historical tales.

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Since much of the series deals with historical figures and what they did, there are several examples of behavior that would be questionable today but was perfectly acceptable in its original era (ethnic jokes, etc.). Even so, the show encourages a passion for learning at all stages of life. Host Cavanagh does poke fun at what he finds, but he's clearly interested in the subject matter, too.

Violence & Scariness

Some scenes feature preserved animal skins, dead birds, and marine specimens. Some historical footage of shooting during a hunt.

Sexy Stuff
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some images of people smoking and, when it's part of the story, mentions of drinking. (For example, the show mentions that author John Steinbeck and his marine biologist friend spent time on their scientific expedition "boozing" on the boat.)

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that some of the stories featured in this educational series touch on behavior toward which attitudes have changed over the years -- including ethnic humor, hunting, smoking, and drinking. Host Tom Cavanagh is also something of a smart aleck at times, often poking fun at the things he discovers, but overall he seems interested in learning about them.

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What's the story?

The Smithsonian Institute has long been nicknamed America's Attic -- and for good reason: Its collections are so huge that only a small percentage of them are on display at any given time. STORIES FROM THE VAULTS brings to life not only the artifacts stored by the Institute but also the people behind them. In episodes that revolve around different themes -- from Famous Donors to Beauty -- host Tom Cavanagh takes viewers through the Smithsonian's storage areas, talking to the curators and other experts about what's stored away and seldom seen on exhibit.

Is it any good?

While Cavanagh's goofing off and dumbed-down behavior can be a little grating, it mostly sets him up as the "Every Person," asking the questions we might be too shy to. And the curators -- who are clearly passionate about their respective areas of expertise -- don't seem to mind Cavanagh's gentle teasing. In fact, sometimes his jokes set up the introduction of some interesting information about a specific item.

The stories themselves -- like the tale of author John Steinbeck's expedition with a marine biologist friend to catalog the marine animals found off the coast of California in the 1950s -- are fascinating; many are about things that were part of cutting-edge science in their day. But even more interesting are the reasons that this stuff is still relevant -- such as the fact that the specimen animal skins collected by President Theodore Roosevelt are still being studied today to gauge the rate of world pollution. If your tweens are curious about history and like learning unusual facts, they'll probably get a big kick out of this series.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how social attitudes have changed over the years. Does looking at the past from the perspective of the present make you feel superior to people from earlier eras? Why or why not? Parents, ask your kids whether they think it's appropriate to be critical of someone who broke social ground -- like Phyllis Diller, who made it possible for women to be stand-up comics -- because they did something that wouldn't be acceptable today (telling ethnic jokes, for instance). smoked (her cigarette holder was part of her act).

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Themes & Topics

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