The Phone

TV review by
Kari Croop, Common Sense Media
The Phone TV Poster Image
Timberlake-produced game show is intense but clean.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Contestants' behavior can go either way, and with a $50,000 prize at stake, players' primary motivation is old-fashioned greed. In the beginning, teammates have to work together in order to succeed ... but toward the end, it's every man for himself.


Game show plots tend to revolve around an act of violence. In the first episode, for example, contestants were on the hunt for a mad bomber (who wasn't actually a bomber, of course, but an actor). Pre-planned special effects include graphic car explosions, choreographed combat scenes, and gun battles, which use blanks instead of real bullets.


Virtually none -- generally just things like rare uses of "hell."


Contestants use matching LG phones with AT&T service. The branding isn't excessive, but the phone (with visible logos) is shown briefly at the start of each episode. The show also recruits new contestants via Facebook.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the mood of this fast-paced game show is realistically tense -- and the dramatic special effects (including car explosions and gun battles) might seem a little too real to tweens and young children. That said, the language is surprisingly clean, there's no sex or drinking/smoking, and the contestants are typically smart, athletic, and brave (although they are doing it all for a $50,000 prize...). The logos of sponsors LG and AT&T are thankfully kept to a minimum, too, which keeps the focus on the action instead of the actual phone.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 2-year-old Written bynikkismith168 May 10, 2009

No way

your letting kids watch a show where they risk there life's to earn money. No not good enough for me.This should be for mature teens that know there limits... Continue reading
Adult Written bytennisguy1847 May 3, 2009

a must see on mtv!

I ws so excited for this show and i loved in the first five minutes. its not at all inapropriate. there is some violence.
Kid, 10 years old June 6, 2009


OMG you parents that think this is innapropiate are complete idiots.
Teen, 14 years old Written byLeelandfan13 May 8, 2009

What's the story?

In a seemingly random American city, four unsuspecting people are about to become contestants on THE PHONE, a high-stakes game show from executive producer Justin Timberlake that sends participants out on a fictional mission that seems frighteningly real. The plot springs into action when a mysterious cell phone rings, and the players are split into teams to compete in a series of challenges. Each success yields them more and more cash, with the chance to win as much as $50,000.

Is it any good?

As much as you try to remind yourself that what you're seeing isn't real, you can't help but feel anxious for these players as they muddle through what must be an overwhelmingly out-of-body experience. And the thing is, it's downright entertaining. Yes, the so-called "Operator" (Emmett J. Scanlan) who runs the game is a little corny. But after listening to him long enough -- and recovering from the shock of the well-timed pyrotechnics -- you start to feel like you're Harrison Ford's stunt double in Patriot Games.

In short, this is thorughly entertaining escapist television. And thanks to cinema-quality camerawork, high-stakes plot lines, and dramatic pacing, it's easy to forget that it's only a game show.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the show mimics the style of popular action films like The Bourne Identity, Speed, and Die Hard: With a Vengeance. Do the explosions and other tense moments have more or less impact here than they do in those movies? Why? Why do you think the show's producers chose the action-movie format over the run-of-the-mill reality game show style? Is it an effective choice? Why or why not? Would you want to participate in a game show like this one if you had the chance?

TV details

  • Premiere date: April 22, 2009
  • Cast: Emmett J. Scanlan
  • Network: MTV
  • Genre: Game Shows
  • TV rating: TV-14
  • Available on: Streaming
  • Last updated: September 20, 2019

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