The Best Netflix Shows to Watch with Your Family
By Jodi Bartle
Once upon a time, too much TV felt like the worst, laziest kind of parenting you could do - a sign of lost values, a sad replacement for books and board games.
And, well, it’s probably still a little bit true.
But lo – now there’s a 'Worse Thing To Fret About' - we’ve moved on to peak individual-device-land, where everyone has their heads firmly fixed downwards watching something else by themselves, and any chat is reserved for someone on your contacts list.
As the mother of a few pre-teens, two primary kids and another one nursery-aged, I want to champion a return to those halcyon days of communal TV-watching that I remember from my childhood.
Everyone in pyjamas, some with wine, some with milk, lights low, radiators and dogs and cushions aplenty. A bit last-year’s hygge, if you will, but with added Netflix and Amazon Prime memberships.
So, we’ve done the hard work for you. We’ve reclaimed our own slice of early evening and have road-tested and binged on the best of mutually-agreeable TV like square-eyed pros.
A word of warning - I’ve decided (well, me and the research - wouldn’t want to take all the credit) that watching violence is no good for kids, but a bit of tasteful, consensual, non-graphic sexy bits won’t do them much harm. In fact, better to give them a nice version of well-lit sexuality before someone shows them a Redtube clip and ruins them forever.
Therefore, we haven't shied away from TV that confronts some slightly grown-up issues, provided it has been approached in a sensitive, respectful way. Sometimes it takes confronting an issue to open up a dialogue with your kids, and we all want that, right?
And the best shows with the best writing will offer something up for all ages, within reason - the adult-appropriate jokes will be lost on the younger ones who just like the musical numbers and the glitter: and when it gets a little too much, just send the youngsters off to bed one by one and settle down for some big-kid cultural bonding.
Here’s our roundup of the best Netfix series to watch with your family:
Ah, the fun we’ve had with this one. The sharp one liners of Sue Sylvester, cruel and kind in turns, cut with the saccharine ballads of Rachel’n’Finn and the tortured campy journey of Kurt, all set in a mid-western American high school which feels both familiar and utterly fake.
It’s all big stagey musical numbers that have you belting along even though you kind of hate yourself for it, and cliched teachers and painful crushes and coordinated costumes. The core cast are misfits and underdogs who, once fleshed out beyond their stereotypes, are shown to be powerful and wonderful just as they are.
It is funny, deliciously so, with fabulous cameos from Gywneth Paltrow, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kate Hudson in a leotard. At times a little racy, Glee deals with the big stuff like death, race, and sexuality, only getting boring in the later seasons when the cast get too old for us to care anymore.
This may well be our favourite OF ALL TIME. The premise is pretty dark - Kimmy Schmidt has been locked in an underground bunker since she was snatched by a doomsday nutcase cult leader at age 15 (Mad Men’s John Hamm, in fine, Machiavellian form).
She is finally set free just before she turns 30, and exits the underground all wide-eyed, sweetly naive and determined to be positive about everything. She ends up living in a cupboard in a shabby New York City flat with Titus Andromedon, her gay best friend who is a mostly out-of-work actor that bursts frequently into song, and her dodgy landlady Lillian who is both kind and clearly criminal.
Kimmy gets work as a nanny to socialite (and secret Native American Indian) Jacqueline and her dreadful, entitled, spoilt children. It is a study in optimism, friendship, cartoony clothes and has a song title that will have you all shouting the lyrics in familial unity.
This is an underrated, underseen comedic gem about dysfunctional families who love each other anyway. Firstly and importantly, it stars the brilliant (and quite fanciable, if you like that sort of thing) Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth, the bewildered and frustrated son who ends up becoming responsible for resurrecting the disgraced family business.
The sprawling and formerly wealthy Bluth family are all now living all together in a Bluth show home that keeps falling apart, and every member seems intent on spending the last of the family fortune despite Michael’s hard work to save the business.
There’s an itinerant uncle and incarcerated father, a lazy twin sister, a terrible magician brother, a permanently sozzled and acerbic mother, younger cousins who share a room and one of whom feels he is in love with the other, invisible girlfriends, a psychiatrist-turned-actor brother-in-law who is a self-confessed ‘never-nude’ and can only shower in cut off denim shorts.
It is shot like a reality TV show, but one that features Liza Minelli and Charlize Theron as various Bluth arm candy. A total delight.
A newish contender - this is one for everybody, not just those who grew up with the Anne series and the excellent Canadian TV show of the mid 1980s.
This version, filmed on Prince Edward island - a kind of supplementary character in itself - is a little darker and doesn't shy away from hinting at Anne’s earlier childhood abuse and neglect, but is also charming and wonderful story-telling with a fresh, feminist bent. Anne is feisty and quick-tempered and eccentric and all my boys were totally hooked.
This show didn’t sound very much fun when a friend recommended it to me - it’s a New York-set show about cops who work together in the 99th precinct - but it is so good. The cops who work together are led/driven nuts by funny guy Detective Jake Peralta who always has to win at any cost.
The premise is that the crummy precinct has just been taken over by a very serious, hard-to-please Captain and everyone is doing their best to impress him while competing against each other to solve cases. There is a lot of hammy crime fighting and really rubbish criminals, an office roller derby, awkward office relationships and a receptionist who is only interested in entering dancing competitions instead of answering the phones.
It’s funny and quirky and will teach your kids about the importance of working in a team, even though you can barely tolerate anyone individually.
What’s your favourite family-friendly series to watch on Netflix?