What were the best TV shows of 2022? If you’re curious, now’s the time to search that question. News and entertainment websites have been rolling out their lists of favorites all month long.
You’ll find more variation than consensus, which reflects our entertainment reality — multiple streaming platforms with robust offerings. Scroll through any of these top 10, top 30 or even top 41 lists, and it’s evident just how many options critics have to choose from.
But should any of these celebrated shows also land on a concerned parents’ naughty list?
We asked Melissa Henson, director of programs for the Parents Television and Media Council, if there were any particular television shows that were of concern in 2022. She identified two particular areas of concern that could land a TV show on the naughty list.
Darker and darker themes
In 2021, the second-most streamed television series, according to Express VPN, was Netflix’s “Squid Game” — a South Korean drama where children’s games end in death. It was rated TV-MA, but as CNN pointed out, “the show has found its way to those far younger, drawing concerns from doctors.” “Squid Game” also inspired content aimed at children on platforms such as YouTube, TikTok and the computer game Roblox.
“The unruly tentacles of ‘Squid Game’s’ inter-generational appeal show how streaming media challenges existing conceptions of ‘child-appropriate’ content,” wrote Jessica Balanzategui for TheConversation.com.
In 2022, the most-streamed television show was “Stranger Things.” The fourth season of the Netflix supernatural thriller dropped on May 27 and was “thematically darker than any of the previous seasons,” Henson said.
“Stranger Things” has always carried a TV-14 rating, indicating that it’s appropriate for most teens. However, after the arrival of the fourth season, the Parents Television and Media Council questioned that rating as the series became more profane and more violent. According to the organization, the instances of objectionable language in “Stranger Things” (which included more uses of the F-word) increased by 217% between Seasons 1 and 4, and violence increased by 307%.
Currently, the most popular streaming series is also a TV-14 offering from Netflix — “Wednesday,” according to both JustWatch.com and ReelGood.com, sites that track usage across streaming platforms. “Wednesday” is an iteration of the “Addams Family,” which was first adapted for television in 1964.
According to the Netflix description, this version of the teenage character attends “a bizarre boarding school where she attempts to master her psychic powers, stop a monstrous killing spree of the town citizens, and solve the supernatural mystery that affected her family 25 years ago — all while navigating her new relationships.”
Considering all the TV-MA content offered up by streaming services, “Wednesday” is more restrained (moderate gore and violence with occasional profanity) and the TV-14 rating seems appropriate. However, it fits a pattern, according to Henson.
“There’s an overwhelming darkness that fills programming targeting to teens,” she said.
As a media observer and a parent, Henson worries that the abundance of dark content — and the void of content containing hopeful messages — isn’t healthy for an age group that is often “unable to project themselves into the future.”
“So much of the programming that is targeted to those kids is feeding that sense of despair,” Henson said. “When you feed into that mindset, it’s encouraging kids to dwell in the now instead of projecting them into the future. Having programs with a hopeful message helps to free children from the burden of now.”
Adult content marketed to children
In November, the Parents Television and Media Council sent a letter to Lina M. Khan, chair of the Federal Trade Commission, urging the agency “to renew its efforts to hold the entertainment industry accountable for how it markets content to children.”
“Hollywood,” the letter reads, “is still trying to do an end-run around parents, deliberately targeting children and teens in the marketing of their adult-rated entertainment products on the platforms that teens use the most.”
According to the letter, adult-oriented television series such as HBO’s “Euphoria,” Netflix’s “Big Mouth,” Hulu’s “pen15” and “Squid Game” are being marketed to teens via TikTok and Instagram.
“They’re reaching kids where they exist ... in the medium that they are most likely to engage with,” said Henson, who co-authored the letter. “They know mom and dad are probably not 100 percent attuned to what their kids are seeing.”
All of the series mentioned in the letter are rated TV-MA and intended for adult audiences.
“The TV-MA rating should, in theory, serve as a gatekeeper for children seeking to learn more about the program,” the letter reads. “But social media gives children great access into these shows, whether their families subscribe to a particular streaming platform. And Hollywood is using that back door to do just that. ...
“Even the most vigilant of parents is unable to anticipate the frequency with which children are being bombarded with content designed to pique their interest in mature-rated entertainment products.”
In September, the organization criticized Disney for the FXX animated series “Little Demon,” which premiered Aug. 25. Disney acquired 21st Century Fox in March 2019. The series, which airs on basic cable, is about a 13-year-old girl who discovers she was fathered by Satan and features multiple uses of the F-word and other profanities, as well as animated gore and nudity.
“Despite its hollow suggestions to the contrary, Disney knows full-well that ‘Little Demon’ is designed to appeal to children, especially young teens and preteens,” said Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television and Media Council.