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 Marvel's The Punisher is based on a comic book character who uses very violent methods to fight crime. The near-constant and brutal violence will be parents' chief concern, particularly since both "heroes" and villains kill and torture others. Characters are abruptly killed (bludgeoned, shot, strangled, drowned in liquid concrete), with spurting blood, the crunching sounds of bones being broken/bodies being run over, gory wounds, and spattered brain matter. Some of the violence has a sexual tinge, like when men mistake a toilet-stall strangulation for a sexual encounter. And one character is shot while receiving oral sex. Language is frequent: "ass," "bulls--t," "s--t," "a--hole," "goddamn," "bastards," etc. A man who's viewed as intellectually disabled is called "dumbass" and "retard" by co-workers. A group of co-workers drink until they're drunk in a bar; it's implied that a main character has a drinking problem.
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What's the story?
Once, Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) was a soldier and a family man. But that's before he got involved in some murky business while deployed -- and before he returned home to see his wife and children murdered. Now, having exacted mortal revenge on those responsible for his tragedy, the man formerly known as THE PUNISHER is in hiding, using a new name and working a dead-end construction job where he talks to no one. But when Frank uncovers a conspiracy that runs even deeper than New York's mob-controlled underworld, he realizes there are more injustices he must correct. Evildoers, beware! The Punisher is stalking the streets of NYC, and you may be next to fall.
Is it any good?
The presence of the magnetic Jon Bernthal elevates this Marvel series, but it has so many familiar beats that the whole proceeding feels stale. Frank is a man with nothing to lose, galvanized into great (and often brutal) efforts to root out crime by his lost and broken heart. Comic book fans even have a word to describe female characters who are dispatched in gruesome ways to give a male character motivation: "fridged." It refers to the tendency of comic book girlfriends and wives to end up murdered and stuffed into a refrigerator for their superhero men to find, all the better to make him come after the perpetrator with a mortal vengeance. It's both regressive and disappointing that The Punisher chose to fridge Frank's family -- and though a revenge fantasy may have flown just fine for another generation of fans, to modern viewers it's not quite the thing.
Viewers who can get past that bit of murky morality will enjoy Bernthal as Punisher: growling at baddies in his hoodie in a convincingly feral way, and showing up at VFW counseling sessions to absorb some positivity from an old army buddy (Jason R. Moore). Other side characters also have a little crackle: Ebon Moss-Bachrach as a wormy junior detective, picking away at the same conspiracy as Frank with conflicted agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah). You've seen this sort of "big bads with big bad plans" setup before, but the actors make it compelling enough, if the violence and mixed messages don't turn you off. If parents allow teens to watch, they may want to ask a few pointed questions about the show's violence and what it means: Is the Punisher a hero? If this is a hero, what does a villain look like?
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Punisher's violence. How does the violence compare to that of other superhero movies or shows? Do the supernatural or superpower-based characters make the violence seem less realistic? What impact does media violence have on kids?
Is Punisher or any of his cohorts role models? Why or why not?
What does the word "antihero" mean? Why are antiheroes appealing? What sets them apart from "regular" heroes?