when sometimes only television will do (a defense for a family tv night)

When Covid hit in March 2020, we were prepared in the sense that we were already used to being around the house and with each other most of the day. Our routines didn’t exactly change – we still did our schoolwork, went on daily walks, (we live in the country) and read the day away. Even still, the world was changing and you could feel the tension in the air, at times. We tried to keep our kids pretty guarded from the panic but they knew what was going on. Their co-op was cancelled, plane tickets for a Spring trip back to California were refunded, church closed, and there was no going out – not to our favorite restaurants, not to the library, not to the supermarket.

We didn’t have any answer except the obvious: God is in charge. The girls put on a brave face and we carried on. We completed projects, spent loads of time on the farm, and made it through a pile of novels. We actually had a pretty lovely year together. Sean worked from home, we spent loads of time planting flowers and vegetables, we played in the snow, we started a co-op once a week with another family, we order take-out from our favorite places, and we baked, cooked, and ate. A LOT.

Still, it was an anxious time and while it was mostly Sean and I feeling it, we knew that the kids were perceptive. We wanted to do something special and out of the ordinary. That’s when we decided that after 10 hours working at normal life stuff, we would treat the kids to a show. We don’t normally watch tv on school evenings, so this was exciting business for the girls – and we started with an old favorite.

The girls and I read the Little House on the Prairie book series and listened to it on cd. We have special memories of that time and since I had grown up watching LHOTP on television (but never actually reading it as a child), I thought we could start with them getting to experience what I did as a little girl. I was the only one in the family that had seen the episodes and so on March 18th, 2020, we curled up after dinner and settled in for the first of 204 episodes (*there are 2-3 episodes we didn’t watch because of sensitive subject matter.) What began as a small treat blossomed into a really memorable family tradition that has sustained during the past 1.5 years and I hope for years to come.

Yes, we watched a show every night. I mean, we took nights off for a few things, but all in all, it became a part of our family routine. I know this makes some people’s toes curl, but that’s ok, we all loved it. It never got old, the girls looked forward to it very much, it has gifted us TONS of family memories, we laughed so hard, we often cried. It has, surprisingly, spurred on even more reading for the girls, as well. They bought books about Wilder, and Westward Expansion. They have been encouraged to learn more about relationships between settlers and Native Americans. There wasn’t an episode that went by where we didn’t leave asking questions and going on a journey to answer them.

We finally wrapped watching LHOTP in Fall of 2020. We bought a cookbook that included many of the recipes from the meals in the book and we cooked several things. We learned more about the lives of the characters. Covidtide will hold many good memories for us as a family and one of them will always be the watching the entire series of The Little House on the Prairie (and yes, we did buy the made-for-tv specials that aired after the show was over. They weren’t amazing, but we had committed to watching it all, no matter how much it had changed.)

After we concluded that moment in time, things were slowly (in VA, at least) getting a little bit back to normal. And by that I mean the new school year was beginning, we were starting back to co-op with friends, restaurants were opening back up, the holidays were coming, we had joined a new church and were attending in person twice a week and getting heavily involved etc. We didn’t have as much time as we once did, and that was a good thing. In fact, I’m glad it didn’t turn into a forever-habit. It holds that season in a unique place in our hearts, as silly as that may sound.

That being said, every now and then we feel the itch to find something we all watch together and enjoy. This has proven somewhat difficult simply because there’s so much garbage out there. But there are a few gems available. Here is what worked for us and gave us some great memories during a bizarre 2020 (and well into 2021):

1.) Little House on the Prairie on DVD/Netflix (Mr. Edwards is the best, followed by Harriet Olsen. I’ll defend this to the death.

2.) All Creatures Great and Small on PBS // This was BY FAR my favorite show of the last year. I adore it. It’s clean, wonderfully written and cast, beautifully shot, and based on the life and books of James Herriot (who we love.) I hear the original show that aired in the 70s is also a fan favorite! If you only choose one of the shows listed, let it be this one.

3.) The Mysterious Benedict Society on Disney Plus // This is a clean show and so fun if you’ve read the books. The wardrobe and casting is pretty sensational as well.

4.) The Andy Griffith Show on Amazon Prime // Always a good choice. Always.

5.) The French Chef on Amazon Prime // This was a fun adventure – the girls really enjoyed her accent and how entertaining she was to watch. We watched a few of these when we were on a cooking kick. Julia Child is a treasure.

5.) A Series of Unfortunate Events (2018) on Netflix // We had read the 13 books and seen the original movie, so we gave this a try and it was pretty fantastic. That being said, there are several jokes in it that will go over kids heads and I believe a curse word or two. Use your discretion for sure and watch all the others first!

Movies we loved this year:

1.) The Lord of the Rings Trilogy // It doesn’t get much better and we dragged these three movies out over a week.

2.) Hoosiers // My favorite sports movie of all time. Note: there is some language but the story is just so compelling, even my 6 year old loved it.)

3.) Nacho Libre // You can’t watch it and not love it.

4.) Little Women (2020 version) // I cried so hard at this one. We listen to the soundtrack on repeat while we do schoolwork. It’s a beautiful film and perfectly cast.

5.) Pride and Prejudice (with Colin Firth, OBVIOUSLY) // You can like other versions of P&P but if you tell me that one is better than this the Colin Firth version, I will have to kindly correct you.

6.) EMMA (the 2020) // Halfway through I lost my two younger girls, but it’s just so visually stunning, and I adore Bill Nighly so I had to. I will also say that the Mr. Elton in this version is the best Mr. Elton, hands down. Plus, I personally can’t abide Gwyneth Paltrow, so this was a welcome movie.

7.) Seven Brides for Seven Brothers // I mean, a bunch of guys kidnap a bunch of girls and force them to marry them. What could go wrong? Good thing it was filmed in 1954 – it’s clean and there’s lots of enthusiastic music and dancing. It’s just plain fun.

***

I could go on but this should get you started. If you want to have a bit of screen time with the kiddos but don’t want it spent watching nonsense or staring blankly at bizarre apps, give one of these try.

Not all television is awful. Not all time spent in front of the old book tube is wasted.

Pop some popcorn, get a blanket, and make a memory.

5 Comments

  1. Again and again, I’m so thankful for you and your willingness to write these blogs! I’m always hugely encouraged and I feel less alone in my quest for God, beauty, truth, and even just plain fun!

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  2. Sounds like a lovely time you made of an ugly time in our history! When “Little House” originally played, we eagerly watched for the newest episodes. Three of the kids from our block were extras on the show. It was a big deal to know someone on one of the most popular shows of the day!
    We enjoy watching series of “Anne of Green Gables” and the “Tales of Avonlea” with our elementary aged grandchildren.

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  3. These are fun recommendations! We usually have at least one family tv night a week, and our family favorite this last year along with All Creatures was a show on Amazon Prime called Victorian Farm.

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  4. We’ve done the same during this crazy covidtimes! Maybe because my boys are teens and tweens now I feel like its more of a family experience. I was so happy that All Creatures was such a good series! We just adored it. And Mysterious Benedict Society has been so fun. Of course my boys love Marvel and all things Star Wars so we’ve been enjoying those new series on Disney as well. And now the Olympics!

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