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 Tell Me a Story is a dark reimagining of fairy tales that has strong levels of sex, language, violence, and drug use. Characters' substance use on-screen includes slugging liquor, teens buying and taking capsules of Molly at a club (that leads to a hookup between near strangers), and snorting piles of cocaine. Sudden, bloody deaths occur on-screen. Characters have sex with lots of groping, thrusting, gasping, and moaning, and men's backsides are visible in both sexual (during postcoital pillow talk) and nonsexual (getting into a shower) contexts. An upsetting incident involves one character groping and attempting to kiss another aggressively. A high school student has a sexual relationship with a teacher. Male and female bodies are on display when dancers gyrate in a club in brief outfits. Language includes "f--k," "f---ing," "s--t," and "damn."
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Loosely based on classic fairy tales, TELL ME A STORY reimagines The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and other folktales as stories of lust, greed, murder, and mayhem in modern-day New York. In this world, the three pigs are masked robbers, whose plan to liberate some money sets loose a dark chain of consequences. Little Red Riding Hood is a new-in-school teen (Danielle Campbell), whose unexpected run-in with a wolf (Billy Magnussen) brings out the animal in her grandmother (Kim Cattrall). And Hansel and Gretel are a pair of estranged siblings (Davi Santos and Dania Ramirez) whose reckless choices bring them into the clutches of -- who else? -- a witch.
Is it any good?
Watching what happens when good people do bad things -- and then double-down -- is an intriguing and tricky treat in Kevin Williamson's briskly plotted series. Williamson (Scream) hasn't lost his gift for dialogue and characterization. Though the goings-on are wildly purple, the characters within them feel real, and dimensional. Cattrall is particularly terrific as a grandmother whose bitterness and regret swims to the surface when her troublesome granddaughter moves in, admitting that she's, frankly, not a very good person -- and her granddaughter is a lot like her. And James Wolk, whom Mad Men watchers will instantly recognize as closeted social climber Bob, makes a super-sympathetic grieving husband on a mission (who goes overboard in any number of cinematically awful ways).
Horror can always go in two directions: Either the characters are ciphers or stereotypes, puppets set up to be systematically and sadistically tortured, or they can be realistic people you grow to care about, which makes the subsequent events all the more wrenching. Tell Me a Story is emphatically the latter type, and viewers will feel conflicted watching. On one hand, you're here for the mayhem. On the other, these seem like (mostly) decent people who screw up and do stupid things, and then have really, really bad stuff happen to them. There's a perverse pleasure in watching that, and Williamson knows how to hit that piano key, hard. CBS All Access' decision to spool the show out week by week instead of dropping all the episodes at once is tortuous -- but in a good way. Horror fans will be pleasantly tantalized waiting to see what comes next.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how violent Tell Me a Story is. Did the level of violence surprise you, given that it's a show from a major TV network (albeit its private streaming service)? Is the violence acceptable or over-the-top? What's the impact of media violence on kids?
Families can also talk about the language and drug use in this show. If this were a movie, what rating would you give it: PG-13? Or R? Is it surprising or alarming to see teens and adults using drugs so casually and freely? Do the four-letter words contribute to or detract from the show?
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