The Premise

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
The Premise TV Poster Image
Language, nudity, mature themes in Novak's clever anthology.

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Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Messages shift with each story, but each investigates the rift between public and private behavior, between the expectations of others and private emotions. 

Positive Role Models

Characters range from corrupt and menacing to noble and heroic, depending on the episode. Since each is short and cast changes with every outing, it's hard to get to know each character but they feel complex and lived-in instead of stereotypical. 

Diverse Representations

Like other levels of content, the diversity of characters and storylines depends on the episode, but in several, people of color take center stage and are complex characters with agency. In at least one episode, a White character is lampooned for his "wokeness" and for the limits of same. 


Violence is infrequent, though it can affect storylines, like a man who is arrested unjustly for supposedly attacking a police officer; we see an officer tripping when getting out of his car in the background of a video. Another episode revolves around gun violence. 


Sexual content depends on the episode, but several revolve around mature concepts such as a private sex tape that also captures a controversial event in the background (we see a man nude from behind with his buttocks visible, moving rhythmically behind a woman and also with his face covering her genitals; the woman remains covered in underwear and a bra), and a celebrity who offers to have sex with a high school student as a reward for academic performance. There are frank discussions of sex, masturbation, oral sex, and more. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Premise is a series created and written by B.J. Novak (The Office) that takes an anthology approach: Each episode has a different cast and director, and revolves around one theme -- the "premise" of the title. Like all anthology series, levels of mature content will shift from episode to episode. In one, for instance, violence is relegated to a brief view of a police officer tripping as he gets out of his car but sexual content is prominent, as the storyline revolves around a sex tape that we see repeatedly: A man is seen nude from the rear making suggestive thrusting motions, and performing what appears to be oral sex on a woman in a bra (private parts are covered). Another episode revolves around the aftermath of a death by gun violence, so viewers can expect a greater focus on violence; still another episode revolves around a sex toy, so viewers can expect more sexual content. There are frank discussions of sex, masturbation, oral sex, and other sexual topics, and cursing includes "f--k," "f--king," "bitch," "s--t." People of color are main characters in two out of the five episodes in The Premise's first season, and some storylines touch on race, particularly as it relates to social justice. Characters feel complex rather than stereotypical, and storylines are similarly complicated, if often surreal. 

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What's the story?

Written and created by B.J. Novak (The Office), THE PREMISE is an anthology series in which every episode revolves around a big idea: Why would a father who lost his daughter to gun violence go to work for a gun lobby? Will a man who considers himself an ally to people of color risk public humiliation if it means ensuring justice? Can critical online comments actually ruin someone's life? In each episode, a new cast explores the premise, with notables including Kaitlyn Dever, Ben Platt, and Daniel Dae Kim.

Is it any good?

Like a comic riff on Black Mirror, this arresting if imperfect anthology series sets itself the task of building each episode with a fresh cast and director, organized around a singular big idea. But what separates The Premise from similar anthology shows that generally lean sci-fi/horror is the wry comic tone creator-writer B.J. Novak brings to the proceedings: He's trying to make you think, yes, but he's also trying to make you laugh. Not that it always comes off seamlessly; in fact, one of the downsides of The Premise is the uneven tone.

The first episode, "Social Justice Sex Tape," seems at first that it might be a kind of drama or mystery: A private citizen's private sex tape sheds light on a crime police say happened. Main character Ayo Edebiri seems like a crusading lawyer type, and we're set up to think the conflict is between her railroaded client and corrupt brutal cops. Instead, as Ben Platt shows up as the ultra-woke sex tape owner, we realize that the conflict is really his: Is he a woke enough ally to allow himself to be humiliated in open court for the chance at freeing an innocent man? There's plenty of comic juice generated by Platt's nebbishy line readings in response to jurors and lawyers mocking his sexual performance; Tracee Ellis Ross' facial expression as she views the entire sex tape is a scream in and of itself. But the tone bounces from satirical to absurd to dramatic a bit confusingly and viewers may be left wondering exactly what reaction creators are attempting to elicit. No matter: Novak's writing is as sharp and eccentric as it was on The Office, and that show's fervent fans will, and should, show up to check out what he's up to these days. 


Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about some of the themes featured in The Premise. What are these stories saying about people's fascination with social media and celebrity? Do you think the show's comic satirical style helps make these points? Or does it detract from them?

  • Writer and creator B.J. Novak has a reputation as a talented writer from his work on mega-popular comedy The Office. Did that reputation make you more interested in watching The Premise? Why? What expectations do viewers bring with them when they consume a movie or TV show created by someone whose work they've loved elsewhere? 

  • Novak wrote all of these episodes (sometimes with co-writers) but a different director worked on each. Can you tell the difference between directorial approaches? What unique perspective does each director bring to the material? 

TV details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love mature comedy

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