The Phone TV Poster Image

The Phone



Timberlake-produced game show is intense but clean.

What parents need to know

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.

Not applicable

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
Not applicable

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.

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.

Families can talk 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
Genre:Game Shows
TV rating:TV-14
Available on:Streaming

This review of The Phone was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

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! But over all in entertainment it is excellent but not for bad kids.
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