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What/If

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
What/If TV Poster Image
Sex and violence in fun, dark, soapy Zellweger drama.

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Positive messages are few and far between in this soapy drama, with themes of past mistakes coming back to haunt characters, and revenge that turns on the vengeful. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Women and people of color have strong, central roles, but many characters are duplicitous, with hidden motivations and a "the ends justify the means" moral compass. 

Violence

Deaths take place onscreen with blood but no gore; dead bodies are shown briefly. Deaths may be sudden and shocking, and involve characters we've gotten to know (if not to love). Some violence has a sexual element, like when a man kidnaps a woman (and then gets into a mortal battle with her husband). One character has first-responder type jobs; we see injured people like a young boy with a burned face. Characters have secret pasts, some of which involve murder. 

Sex

Sexual content is frequent and plotlines revolve around infidelity and sex. We see characters kissing in bed and moving rhythmically; we see a man nude from the side (no private parts are visible), and then the camera cuts to them looking satisfied in bed while covered by sheets. Expect same- and opposite-sex kissing and references to sex. 

Language

Cursing and language includes "f--k," "hell," "bitch," "balls" (meaning courage). 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink wine and cocktails at parties and gatherings; no one acts drunk. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that What/If is a sudsy drama about a woman who accepts a morally shaky financial deal and soon regrets her decision as she's drawn into a web of consequences. While it mirrors the standard evening soaps with its twists and reveals often revolving around sex and violence, visual content is rather mild. Deaths take place suddenly and sometimes involve characters we've gotten to know, but there's no gore and little blood and most violence takes place off-screen. Sex is also rather subtle, with same- and opposite-sex characters shown kissing and taking off clothing, then moving rhythmically together under the covers; no nudity or private parts are shown. Some violence has a sexual element, like a near-rape that catalyzes an act of violence, and a domestic violence incident that involves a kidnapping. Cursing is infrequent, but expect to hear "f--k," "hell," "bitch," and "balls." Adults drink cocktails and wine at gatherings, but no one acts drunk. Women and people of color have strong, central roles, and a main character is a woman in her fifties. 

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What's the story?

Dark and soapy WHAT/IF revolves around Lisa (Jane Levy), whose desperation to fund her medical startup leads her to make a deal with the duplicitous Anne (Renee Zellweger): Anne will give Lisa millions for her company in exchange for a night alone with Sean (Blake Jenner). But Anne has more on her mind than a simple exchange, and soon Lisa and her circle of friends and family are swept up in the drama. 

Is it any good?

Pulpy, juicy, and filled with ridiculous yet dramatically satisfying twists, this drama is a delightful bingeable pleasure. The official Netflix trailer for this series begins with a flash of lightning over the Golden Gate Bridge and a rumble of thunder, so that should clue you in to exactly how subtle this show is. "True greatness only comes to those willing to pursue it at any cost," says Zellweger's Anna to herself at the top of the series, underlining "at any cost" twice on a scratch pad. We get it! You're ruthless! And so we're not surprised when the show seems to settle immediately into an Indecent Proposal groove.

But things are going to go in way, way weirder directions than you think. Meeting the pleasant cast in the first episode, you may think you're in for a slightly racier Grey's Anatomy with the f-word, but the plot rises to positively over-the-top levels in later episodes. Fans of creator Mike Kelley's earlier dramas -- the cult-fave Jericho and the similar-in-tone-and-execution Revenge -- are particularly urged to give What/If a try. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about What/If 's central theme of past choices affecting one's future. What are the negative consequences characters suffer in this drama? Are the consequences fitting and deserved? Or are they unfair? 

  • This show is similar in tone to another one by the same creator, Revenge. If you've seen that show, how is this one like its predecessor? How did changing providers from network TV to Netflix change what creator Mike Kelley includes in the show? How much does this show push the envelope as far as mature content? Does said mature content improve the show? 

  • Many modern dramas try to surprise audiences with twists. What twists does this drama contain? Do you like this type of storytelling? Does it make you want to keep watching? Are these types of twists realistic? Does it matter? 

TV details

For kids who love drama

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