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 this family-targeted Doctor Who spin-off is heavy on aliens trying to take over the Earth, but light on violence and scares (the characters prefer to use wits over weapons, and the effects aren't very sophisticated). There's no iffy sexual content, drinking, or particularly strong language, either, and main character Sarah Jane is a plucky, ingenious single mom who -- in a rarity for TV -- looks and acts her age, speaks honestly about her feelings, and comes across as a very real person. That is, a real person who spends her days tracking down aliens and sending them packing without resorting to violence.
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What's the story?
Sarah Jane Smith is anything but your average action show heroine. As the main character in THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES, she (Elizabeth Sladen) must save the world from a seemingly endless supply of hostile alien races bent on world domination. But unlike most sci-fi shows, Sarah Jane emphasizes her brain over muscle -- and diplomacy over combat -- and is the first to admit that a complete lack of weapons makes her a poor choice to tangle with such dangerous creatures. Her alien-fighting associates are equally unusual for a sci-fi action show. Maria (Yasmin Paige) is a high school student who lives across the street, and Sarah Jane's adopted son Luke (Thomas Knight) was manufactured by an alien race. Together, they're a highly unlikely bunch of alien hunters.
Is it any good?
The group's "weaknesses" are strengths for the series, because they force Sarah Jane to come up with innovative strategies to defeat her foes, which ends up being much more fun for viewers. Storm into an alien stronghold with guns blazing? Most fans have seen that over and over again. But destroy a hideous beast with an intergalactic mobile phone? Now that's something new.
Sarah Jane has a complicated, well-loved backstory. THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES is a spin-off of the immensely popular Doctor Who series, and Sarah Jane (who's always been played by Sladen) spent several seasons in the mid-'70s traveling through time and space with the Doctor. Now, decades later, she's a middle-aged single mother who looks and acts her age (a refreshing rarity on TV in the age of Botox and cosmetic surgery). The series has the same defiantly low-budget feel that's always made Doctor Who so much fun, especially when it comes to oh-so-obvious alien costumes and massive monster puppets. But ignore the cheesy effects, and The Sarah Jane Adventures stands out for its unique characters, unusual plots, and, above all, its original thinking.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about aliens. Do you think there's intelligent life somewhere else in the universe? If so, do you think they've ever come to visit Earth? Why do so many TV shows assume that aliens are real, here, more advanced than humans, and bent on taking over the planet? And if an alien creature could look like just about anything, why do so many fictional ones have two legs, two arms, and a head (in other words, a lot like people)? Families can also discuss how this show compares to Doctor Who. Is it more age-appropriate for kids? Why or why not?