5 for Friday: Family-Friendly Historical Dramas — ‘When Calls the Heart,’ Jane Austen and More

I’ve always been a big fan of historical-fiction books, and I was delighted to discover the similar genre of TV shows. But the catch, I found, was that these shows sometimes have a bizarre and rather anachronistic amount of sexual material.

If, like me, you’d prefer a show about a more innocent time to actually be more innocent, here are five shows you might want to check out:

When Calls the Heart

This is a pretty squeaky-clean Hallmark drama, also available on Netflix, about a city girl who moves to a mining town to start a new position as a teacher.

I’ll warn you that the cheese is real in this one at times, but it does still have its moments of truly compelling story. To me, the trade-off of having virtually nothing objectionable (except maybe some pretty mild violence, like fist fights or threats from bad guys) made it worth the watch, especially when I wanted to watch something with my toddler that wasn’t animated.

Here’s the most recent season trailer:

Anne With an E

I’ve seen this Netflix original adaptation series of the beloved Anne of Green Gables novel get a lot of bad reviews. Mostly, the complaints have been centered on its darker, more grown-up tone than the novel. While I think there’s some truth in that, I still found this show about whimsical orphan Anne Shirley and her new adoptive parents to be pretty enjoyable.

It’s rated PG, mostly for those darker elements that include things like flashbacks to Anne being bullied at the orphanage, as well as some brief innuendo, but nothing too serious.

It’s also been renewed for a second season.

(Editor’s Note: Common Sense Media generally agrees with Adrienne; but a writer in Vanity Fair isn’t a fan.)

Here’s the trailer:

Pride and Prejudice (1995)

OK, technically this one’s a mini-series, but any list of historical dramas would hardly be complete without this adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic. While I do like the more recent Kiera Knightly movie adaptation, this mini-series is often called the “definitive” “Pride and Prejudice” adaptation and gives a pretty complete picture of the whole story as contained in the novel about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy falling in love despite their pride and prejudice.

And obviously, since it’s based on a Jane Austen novel, it’s pretty clean, though this version does show Wickham’s past misdeeds a bit more clearly than some versions.

If you hunt around, all six episodes are available on YouTube; the series is also on DVD and — in meticulously rendered high-def edition — on Hulu.

(Editor’s Note: This might spark conversations with youngsters about an estate being “entailed away” (explanation here). It also could require an explanation of how few ways single women could make a decent living in the early 19th century, hence the emphasis on finding good husbands. This can be contrasted with the courage with which eldest sisters Jane and Elizabeth Bennet pursue men of character, whom they truly love, over merely rich or “respectable” men. Of course, the fact that they fall in love with good men who are also rich is a bonus.)

Take a peek:

Granite Flats

Another squeaky clean option that I’ve watched with my toddler, “Granite Flats” on Netflix is a Cold War-era drama about a boy who plays at being a spy and then actually ends up kind of becoming one, as he and his friends stumble onto some suspicious activity in their small town.

This show was made by members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints (a k a Mormons), who specifically wanted to create a show the whole family could enjoy together. I’d say: mission accomplished. It’s only rarely cheesy, typically pretty compelling, and has some pro-nondenominational Christian themes (nothing Mormon-specific). It’s currently available on Netflix.

Here’s a promo video for the show:


This NBC drama — whose fans saved it from cancellation after its freshman season — is not historical per se, but it’s a time-travel drama in which the characters go back to several very interesting points in history, so the history geek in me loved the concept.

It centers around a history professor and some scientists who are trying to stop someone evil from changing a bunch of past world events for personal gain. There is some violence – they do go back to events like Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and the Alamo, after all. But it’s otherwise pretty clean. You can find it on Hulu, with season 2 set to come out mid-season on NBC.

Image: Courtesy Hallmark Channel

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘The Hobbit’ at 80: Joseph Pearce and Bishop Barron on the Catholicism of ‘Lord of the Rings’

In Sept. 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” was published. leading to three more novels between 1937 and 1949 that became known as “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. In recent years, director Peter Jackson has helmed film versions of all the books, turning “The Lord of the Rings” into three movies, and the slender “Hobbit” into three movies of its own.

Underneath all of the fantasy trappings of the mythical Middle Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien intended “The Lord of the Rings,” etc., to be Catholic allegories, although that may not be obvious to casual readers or casual viewers of the movies. Because they’re set in another reality, the stories don’t explicitly deal with Christ — or actual human history at all. Instead, Tolkien took such themes as sacrificial love, sin and redemption, and plays them out across an imaginative landscape.

But better than me explaining this to you — because, to be honest, I didn’t pick up on the implicit Catholicism of the books until it was pointed out to me — let me hand the stage over to two of the modern Church’s most talented media critics and Tolkien ‘splainers, English writer and biographer Joseph Pearce and Los Angeles’ own Bishop Robert Barron.

First, Pearce focuses on “The Hobbit” on EWTN:

Here, Pearce “unlocks” the Catholicism of “The Lord of the Rings” in a 2015 lecture at Christendom College:

And lastly, in a documentary, he looks at Tolkien’s Catholic worldview, with Kevin O’Brien as J.R.R. Tolkien, and Al Marsh as C.S. Lewis:

If you don’t have time right now for almost-one-hour videos, Bishop Barron wraps it up in 10 minutes or less.

Here’s a look at “The Hobbit” movie and book:

And a two-part look at “The Lord of the Rings”:

If you want to watch the movies, they air regularly on cablenet TNT, and a bunch of “LOTR” and “Hobbit” DVDs are clustered here on Amazon, and “The Hobbit” is here on Amazon Video. And, of course, you can also read the books, which are available in many places, including your local library.

Image: Courtesy Wing Nut Films/New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Warner Bros.

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Happy Birthday, Julie Andrews! Recalling the (Very Catholic) ‘Sound of Music’

Julie Andrews’ birthday is Sunday, Oct. 1, and in honor of her, let’s spend a little time talking her role as Maria in 1965’s “The Sound of Music.” It may be her most famous part — along with “Mary Poppins” — and it’s definitely her most Catholic one.

Set in Austria in 1938, the film adaptation of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway show — itself based on a memoir, “The Story of the Von Trapp Family Singers,” by Maria Von Trapp — stars Andrews as Maria, a young woman studying to be a nun in Salzburg, Austria. The Mother Abbess, suspecting the high-spirited Maria is a poor fit for the convent, sends her to be governess to the seven children of widowed retired naval officer Capt. Georg Von Trapp. After a rocky beginning, Maria wins over the children — and eventually wins Von Trapp’s heart. But the encroachment of the Nazis forces the Von Trapps to slip away, at great peril, and head over the mountains to Switzerland and freedom.

One of the film’s most iconic scenes came at the beginning. Andrews recalls:

“A giant helicopter came at me sideways with a very brave cameraman hanging out [its] side,” said the 81-year-old. “Every time he went around me, the downdraft from the jets would fling me down into the grass.”

In 2015, to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary, Lady Gaga — a Catholic — put aside her outrageous stage image and stunned the world with a tribute to Andrews and “The Hills Are Alive”:

Maria is obviously a devout Catholic, as exemplified in this prayer, as 16-going-on-17-year-old daughter Liesel (Charmain Carr) sneaks in late:

A few years ago, NBC did a live version of “The Sound of Music,” with Carrie Underwood, and much as the network might have been tempted to remove them, the nuns stayed in the picture.

“The Sound of Music” is example of a film that, while saturated in the Catholic faith and imagery, has an appeal to people across generations, decades and ethnicities. You don’t have to be Austrian or German or European or Catholic to appreciate a story of love and family in the face of oppression.

Observed a 2015 story in the National Catholic Register, written by a former Catholic schoolboy:

Seeing The Sound of Music with the sisters and my schoolmates was a life-changing experience. It is still my favorite movie, which I have watched dozens of times. When Mother Superior tells Maria that the monastery walls were not built to hide from the world, I get a sense of the courage and commitment involved in discerning a religious vocation. When Maria and Capt. von Trapp stand at night by the pond, the scene illustrates the chaste, delicate and awakening nature of love and the trust and sacrifice it requires. When the captain pulls down the Nazi flag from his home after returning from his honeymoon, I know in my bones there is evil in the world that attacks even the innocence of children — and that good men and women must stand against it, regardless of the cost.

Sadly, Andrews’ singing voice was irreparably damaged during a 1997 surgery for non-cancerous nodules in her throat. It was a loss, not only to Andrews, but the world.

Here she is at 12, singing opera:

Once asked about her favorite song from “The Sound of Music,” Andrews ironically named one she didn’t sing in the movie (but did often sing later in concert), a song that touches the heart of anyone who loves his or her homeland:

Early in the film, the nuns at the abbey despair, singing, “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?”

The song returns later, when she weds Capt. Von Trapp. A Catholic wedding has seldom been portrayed more beautifully in a movie.

If you want to share this classic with your family, just click here for the DVD, or here to stream via Amazon Video.

Image: Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

5 for Friday: ‘Great British Baking Show,’ ‘Mulan,’ Hallmark, ‘Shark Tank’ and More

And they say there’s nothing good on television! We disagree, and if you want to gather round the flatscreen this weekend for some good family viewing, you don’t even need to use a screening app.

Here’s a selection of cable and broadcast shows suitable for Junior to Nana and everyone in between (all times ET/PT):

“Great British Baking Show” — Friday, 8 p.m., PBS (whose affiliates are allowed to air shows on their own schedules, so check local listings for time and station in your area)

As addictive as the baked goods produced on the show, this British import is simultaneously charming, relaxing and incredibly tense. Diverse contestants — who, despite differences in faith, ethnicity and background, seem chosen for being generally lovely people — gather under a large tent on the lawn of a high-end British estate to compete in the creation of a dizzying array of British and international cakes, pies, biscuits, rolls, muffins, buns and cookies. Then they face the judgment of two baking experts: well-tanned Paul Hollywood, and persnickety octogenarian Mary Berry (at top).

While the competition is nerve-wracking, the hosts — the comic team of Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc — keep it light, the judges are stern but loving, and there is zero backbiting or unpleasantness among the contestants.

As a bonus, if your kids wonder how math is used in the world, just have them watch the bakers working out amounts of ingredients and cooking times, and doing complex engineering for gingerbread houses and other towering creations.

The show is also available on Netflix.

“Mulan” (1998) — Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Freeform

One of the directors of this Disney animated film is Christian Tony Bancroft (read an interview with himself and a fellow Disney animator here), and the film got four out of five stars from watchdog group Common Sense Media, which wrote:

Parents need to know that although Mulan is a decidedly Disneyfied take on a Chinese fairy tale, elements of Chinese culture and history ring true. It also offers kids a strong female character who (like Moana and Merida) stands out from the Disney Princess pack and offers a positive gender representation for young viewers (even though gender-related stereotypes are also sometimes played for laughs). Expect some scary/intense battle scenes, weapons use, explosions, sad moments, and a very menacing bad guy. The Huns destroy Chinese villages and kill people (not shown). There’s a bit of flirting/romantic tension. While Mulan ultimately becomes a hero and helps her people, she does so by rebelling against authority, which is worth discussing. But in the end, this is a story about perseverance, teamwork, and courage that’s bound to choke up dads and daughters everywhere.

The site also offers 23 parent reviews and suggestions for how to discuss the movie with kids.

“Up” (2009): — Saturday, 9:35 p.m., and Sunday, 7:20 p.m., Freeform

Upon release, this charming and heartfelt Pixar animated film was just about universally loved, and to this day, it has a 98% positive score on film-rating site Rotten Tomatoes.

Ed Asner voices elderly man Carl Fredericksen, who, together with his wife Ellie, had always dreamed of traveling to Paradise Falls in South America. After Ellie dies, Carl decides to honor her by making their dream come true, so he lashes hundreds of helium balloons to his house and floats off to find Paradise Falls. Unbeknownst to Carl, he’s got an unintended stowaway — an eager scout (voice of Justin Nagai), who has more enthusiasm than skills.

A few caveats from Common Sense Media, which gives the film 5 out of 5 stars:

Parents need to know that Up is the second Pixar movie (after The Incredibles) to receive a PG rating, mostly due to a few potentially frightening scenes involving a band of trained talking dogs trying to get rid of the protagonists, some moments where characters almost fall from a floating house, and some guns firing. That said, it’s Disney/Pixar, so the violence is mild. Viewers should note that an early wordless sequence follows an emotional and potentially upsetting trajectory that could trigger questions about old age, illness, and death.

“Harvest Love” (2017) — Saturday, 9 p.m., Hallmark Channel

This is a romance, so younger kids will probably wrinkle up their noses, but at 9 p.m., it’s after the bedtime of a lot of little ones anyway. But preteens and up — and especially moms — may enjoy this story of love after loss. Here’s how Hallmark describes it:

A widowed surgeon visits her family’s pear orchard in hopes of taking a break from her overbooked life and reconnecting with her distant son. She starts to fall for the farm manager, Will, who is growing a new hybrid pear and teaches her the importance of her heritage. Stars Jen Lilley and Ryan Paevey.

“Shark Tank” — Sunday, 8 p.m., ABC

Business magnate, inventor and philanthropist Richard Branson joins the “sharks” for the Mark Burnett-produced show’s 9th-season premiere, which runs for two hours. Here’s how ABC describes it:

An 11-year-old inventor from San Clemente, California, recycles a skateboard deck to fit inside lockers and backpacks; an entrepreneur from Meridianville, Alabama, revolutionizes aerial sports; a husband and wife team from Vicksburg, Mississippi create outdoor camping gear; and an entrepreneur from San Francisco, California, claims her five-minute meditation app will help the world reduce stress.

In “Shark Tank,” inventors pitch products and services in hopes of securing funding from the panel of wealthy potential investors. The “shark” element comes in as the panelists grill the hopefuls and also compete with each other for the most likely prospects.

While it wasn’t intended as a show for kids, it’s turned out to be one of the several reality shows that families watch together. While most of it will go over the heads of younger kids, middle-schoolers and up can get a quick masterclass on how business and investing work, and what it takes to recruit people to support your dreams.

And sometimes, as in this episode, kids come on to pitch their own ideas — and the panel doesn’t go easy on them.

Images: Courtesy BBC/PBS, Disney/Pixar, Hallmark Channel

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas — One Month Away!

Marry Me at Christmas

Los Angeles is already starting to decorate for Halloween, which is more than a month away, so why wouldn’t Hallmark launch its annual Countdown to Christmas movie event exactly a month from today?

On Friday, Oct. 27 until Dec. 31, Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries go wall-to-wall with holiday-themed movies, including a total of 33 original movies between the two channels.

Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas features new movies every Saturday and Sunday (except. Oct. 29) at 8 p.m. ET/PT — click here for the full rundown — starting on Oct. 28 with “Marry Me at Christmas”:

Stars: Rachel Skarsten, Trevor Donovan
Organizing a Christmas wedding is a true treat for bridal boutique owner Madeline Krug. She loves the challenge of finding the perfect dress for the bride and orchestrating an exquisite event. What Madeline didn’t expect was to be swept off her feet by the bride’s gorgeous brother, movie star Johnny Blake. Jonny came to the quirky town of Fool’s Gold to support his sister — not to fall in love. Yet Madeline is the most extraordinary woman he’s ever met. Planning the perfect wedding leads to candlelit dinners and strolls through snow-covered streets. Madeline finds the real Johnny even more captivating than her celebrity crush. Will the action star be brave enough to take on the role of a lifetime?

Here’s the whole thing (you can download the schedule from here):


Hallmark Movies & Mysteries begins its celebration, called The Most Wonderful Movies of Christmas” click here for the full rundown, on Sunday, Nov. 5, at 9 p.m. ET/PT with “Mr. Christmas”:

Starring: Sam Page, Tara Holt
Tom Jacobs has built an entire business around helping clients find the perfect gift for their loved ones. Since his company’s busiest time of the year is the holidays, he’s earned himself the nickname Mr. Christmas. When Tom’s good friend Paul comes to him asking for help in finding a gift for his girlfriend, Jenny, Mr. Christmas finds himself in a bit of trouble. The more he learns about Jenny during his research, the more he likes her, and the guiltier he feels being caught between his heart and his best friend. With Christmas rapidly approaching, Tom dreads his encroaching deadline as it will mean an end to his time with Jenny and perhaps an end to his only chance at being with his one true love.

Here’s the rest (you can download the schedule from here):

Heaven knows we could all use a little cheer!

Image: Courtesy Hallmark Channel

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.