The Letter

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
The Letter TV Poster Image
Reality series lets friends give advice anonymously.

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The show's setup assumes that "tough love" and hearing unflattering things about yourself is a good thing -- some would disagree. However, the show's aim is redemption so each participant tries to improve herself and her life. Friends are sometimes harsh in their letters: "You're the laziest person I've ever met." "You're the epitome of a country bumpkin." 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Each participant on the show is making efforts to improve her life, though not all viewers will agree that each change is positive or needs to be made. 

Violence

One participant says she wishes to hit whoever wrote her her letter. 

Sex

References to romance, dating, flirting, kissing, marriage. 

Language

The occasional curse, four-letter words are bleeped: "What the hell?" "Are you f--king kidding me?" 

Consumerism

Some participants talk about the pleasures of wealth -- luxury vacations, fancy houses, expensive university training. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Participants are occasionally seen drinking beer or wine; no one acts drunk. References to smoking cigarettes (no one smokes onscreen). 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Letter is a reality show where four friends write anonymous letters to instruct each other on how to live a better life. References to sex, dating, flirting, marriage; occasional cursing ("Are you f--king kidding me?"); participants occasionally drink beer or wine onscreen (no one acts drunk); references to smoking cigarettes (no one smokes onscreen). Participants may react with pain to what they hear -- they cry, rail, argue with what's being said. Watching them undertake new activities intended to improve their character can be uncomfortable, and many get upset and cry. Redemption is the name of the game on this show, but not all viewers will agree that the changes participants are making need to be made, or that "tough love" from your friends is necessary or kind. 

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What's the story?

On each episode of THE LETTER, a group of four friends picks another friend at random and then writes that friend a letter telling her how to improve her life. We first see the participants in their normal lives, then they read the letters onscreen. During the next week, each friend must undertake new experiences/steps outlined by their letter, such as taking a meditation course, traveling to a new city to get out of their comfort zone, or taking on a new job. After the week of "tough love" is over, the friends come back together to talk about their week, reflect on what they've learned, and find out who wrote their letter and why. 

Is it any good?

Riveting and emotional, this show pushes change and redemption, but the assumption that "tough love" is always positive may be hard for some to swallow. It's difficult to listen to (and definitely even more difficult for the participants to read) things like "you are the definition of a small-town bumpkin" and "you're the laziest person I've ever met." It's even harder to watch long-time friends argue over long-held grudges. Participants sometimes devolve into shouting and tears; they hug at the end, but it's hard to shake the notion that these women are shaken in ways both positive and negative. Yes, they may have tried and learned new things during the course of the show, but it's clear that they're often terribly wounded by what they've read, and that friendships are damaged.

Given that, it's hard not to view this show as exploitative, though it's reaching for redemptive. The Letter congratulates on fomenting change and growth, but at what cost? Teen viewers will likely be interested to watch; parents may want to watch too, at least at first, to point out that writing a friend an anonymous letter is a risky way to ask her for changes or point out her faults -- and that anonymous letters in general are looked down on by most people, for very good reasons. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the premise of this show. Is "tough love" a good way to relate to those around you? Does it help others with their faults? Is it kind? 

  • Why are the participants on this show always female? Would this same process work as well on a group of male friends, or a group of male and female friends? 

TV details

For kids who love reality TV

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