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The Looming Tower
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 The Looming Tower is a drama series about the rise of al-Qaida and anti-terrorism intelligence in America. Violence will likely be parents' main concern with this show. There are many scenes of disturbing violence, including terrorists and law-enforcement officials armed with large machine guns, shooting at crowds or raiding secret rooms, huge bombs that explode in fireballs that rain glass, towers on a recognizable New York City skyline being hit by planes and collapsing, and bomb victims (including children) cowering under debris with terrible burns. Aside from the violence, this show moves quickly and doesn't spoon-feed its history to viewers, who'll need to understand some basics about al-Qaida's history, the FBI, the CIA, and counter-terrorism intelligence in America in order to know what's going on. That said, viewers will learn a lot about the inner workings of espionage, law enforcement, and terrorism. Language is also frequent: Expect to hear "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole" and other vulgarities. A man is carrying on three separate relationships with women; we see him kissing each of them and in one scene, he lies on a couch after some sexy talk about his "gun." Adults have wine and cocktails at dinners and parties; no one acts drunk.
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What's the story?
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name, THE LOOMING TOWER centers on the rise of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida in the late 1990s, and on the CIA/FBI rivalry that may have unintentionally kept intelligence agencies from foiling 9/11. Set within the FBI's anti-terrorism I-49 Squad in New York, led by John O'Neill (Jeff Daniels), and the CIA's Alec Station in Washington, D.C., under the direction of Martin Schmidt (Peter Sarsgaard), the movie follows agents as they travel the world fighting for ownership of information while ostensibly working toward the same goal: trying to prevent an imminent terrorist attack on the United States. But when Schmidt and his right-hand woman Diane Marsh (Wrenn Schmidt) get inside intelligence on a burgeoning threat from Middle Eastern rivals and elect not to share it with the FBI, the stage is set for a conflict that will leave thousands dead around the world.
Is it any good?
Dark, complicated, and frightening, this complex and meaty drama fascinates by filling in the missing pieces in viewers' understanding of 9/11. We all watched the planes flying into the towers; we saw them come down; we witnessed filmed threats made against America by men in shadowy cabals. The Looming Tower tells the rest of the story: the officials who squabbled rather than cooperating, the agents who risked everything to bring back crucial pieces of intelligence that were then ignored, the missed connections and dropped loose ends that eventually led to the terrible events of September 11, 2001.
Not that those connections are easy to understand. Non-news-junkie viewers may have to watch with Wikipedia at the ready to understand who or what is "Louis Freeh," "I-49," "UBL," "EIJ." Turn on the closed-captions and get ready for some serious Googling. That said, just as The People vs. O.J. Simpson prised out intriguing detail in a story you thought you already knew, so does The Looming Tower shed new light on the inner workings of terrorism as the action zips from secret rooms where serious men make bombs with computer chips and empty plastic soda bottles to D.C. conference tables, where men in rumpled suits argue like kindergartners over their turf. It's fascinating -- and deeply frightening, even though you know where the story is ultimately headed.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about historical dramas like The Looming Tower and why they generally center on tumultuous times in history. Why set a drama during conflicts and difficult times instead of times of peace and plenty?
How does this show make you feel about the way government and politics operate? Do you feel reassured about the people who are responsible for your country's safety? Or are you more concerned than you were before?
Is this drama better if you lived through its real-life events? Do you need to know background on al-Qaida and 9/11 in order to enjoy and understand this show? Will you learn more about this time period by watching?
For kids who love history
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