Tell Me a Story

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Tell Me a Story TV Poster Image
Boundary-pushing sex, violence in fairy tale thriller.

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

These storylines are intentionally dark, but there are still a few positive messages to be gleaned: the importance of communicating with your loved ones, the way that telling a lie can lead you down a path to more lies and problems. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Show is thoughtfully written and characters tend to act like real people who make mistakes and then suffer terrible consequences, instead of stereotypes who exist just to be sadistically punished. That said, the characters do make very dark mistakes, up to and including murder. 

Violence

Characters die bloody deaths, are victimized in disturbing ways, like when a man roughly kisses another man who backs off and says things indicating "Stop," yet the first man persists in groping him. A character is suddenly shot and dies; another hits his head on a table and also suddenly dies. A jewelry store robbery ends in murder, setting off dark consequences. 

Sex

Sexual content is strong, with both same- and opposite-sex couples having sex with moaning, thrusting, groping, rolling around in bed and other places. Men's backsides are visible in both sexual and nonsexual contexts: during pillow talk after sex, climbing into a shower. A teen student (played by 23-year-old actress) has illicit sexual relationship with teacher (played by 33-year-old actor) that begins with no-strings post-club hookup. Both male and female bodies are on display during scenes of dancers gyrating and sex. 

Language

Language is not constant but includes "f--k," "f---ing," "s--t," "damn." Bicyclist makes vulgar gesture to a car that honks at her. Characters use "tool," referring both to body part and being a jerk.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters use drugs, snorting up bumps and vials and piles of white powder that they identify as cocaine. After heavy cocaine bender, a man takes an Ambien he finds in a friend's bathroom; the friend informs him that he could have slipped into a coma or had heart failure from the combination. Two teens at a club order tequilas with a "special twist": two tabs of Molly that they take before one of them leaves to "hook up." Adults drink at parties and dinners and sometimes get sloppy. 

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."

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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? 

TV details

For kids who love mysteries

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