TV to unleash your little monster: The best family viewing

Parents (and kids) rejoice! A new wave of fantastic family entertainment is here

On paper, Yonderland shouldn’t have worked. In an era dominated by knowing Disney-style tween shows and animated superhero spin-offs, a show deliberately harking back to 1980s films such as Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal – featuring a multi-tasking mum on a quest to save a fantasy world, aided by a puppet and a talking stick – should have seemed creaky and ludicrous.

And yet Sky1’s Sunday-night comedy has been a success. Raved about by critics, it pulls in an average of 1.2  million viewers, a great ratings figure for a non-terrestrial channel.

That’s partly down to the wit of its writing team, the comedians behind the similarly smart/silly Horrible Histories, and partly because Yonderland is at the forefront of a heartening new commissioning trend, away from kid-specific programming and towards all-inclusive family entertainment.

It’s a phenomenon whose roots lie in Russell T Davies’s finely-tuned rebooting of Doctor Who in 2005, though, that aside, for most of the Noughties the only shows that could be considered genuinely “all ages” were those produced by Simon Cowell. Meanwhile, the proliferation of children’s channels from CBeebies to Nick Jr meant that children, freed from the supposed tyranny of children’s hours, could watch programmes aimed at them whenever they wanted.

 In theory, this was a great idea. In practice, it meant that parents parked their kids in front of the gogglebox and got on with making tea. Factor-in the shift towards very-small-screen, solo viewing on laptops and tablets, and it seemed that television as a communal household experience was doomed.

Yet recently the tide has turned again as TV has caught up with cinema in offering shows that can work for different ages at different levels simultaneously.  Sky is a leader in this field: as well as Yonderland, they have recently offered a less bawdy version of Chris O’Dowd’s warm-hearted semi-autobiographical comedy-drama Moone Boy on Sundays, with certain scenes and lines removed to make it more suitable for children. They’ve also been showing the witty but wholesome mockumentary Modern Family since 2009 and continue to air the longest-running family show of them all, The Simpsons.

Meanwhile, the BBC has capitalised on the post-Who appetite for family adventures with the likes of Merlin and Atlantis while ITV has rescued the all-ages genre of light entertainment from the reality TV doldrums with Ant and Dec’s supremely watchable Saturday Night Takeaway, a programme whose popularity has resulted in a spin-off, live arena tour, scheduled for next year.

Even specialised children’s channels have broadened their horizons. CBBC’s Horrible Histories may have ended but it continues to produce clever children’s dramas: Wolfblood, a supernatural series about young werewolves, was repeated on BBC3 and has been compared to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In addition, on the animation front, Disney’s witty Phineas and Ferb offers jokes for both children and adults and Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time is a surreal, psychedelic fantasy that offers weary parents a respite from the endless shouting of Dora the Explorer.

And now the family TV boom is set to grow bigger, as the giants of online TV enter the fray. Following the adults-only  successes of House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, Netflix has taken its first step into high-quality original programming for all the family by signing a deal with animation giants DreamWorks; the first fruit of this collaboration, animated series Turbo FAST, based on the recent Hollywood film Turbo, arrives on Christmas Eve. Not to be outdone, Amazon recently ordered three children’s series to full season, out of five series in total, as part of its move into TV production, including the inventive science-based series AnneBots. Pilots for all three are available to watch on LoveFilm now, with more episodes coming next year.

So why is family entertainment suddenly all the rage? Perhaps it’s down to an onrush of nostalgia among TV execs. “When I was a child there weren’t bespoke channels for children and so my viewing experience was more about watching anything and everything alongside my parents,” explains Adam MacDonald, Sky1’s director of programming. “Now children can have their own worlds but you don’t want to lose that feeling of watching television together and because of that we looked for shows with cross-generational appeal.”

Meanwhile, Cindy Holland, vice president of original content at Netflix, says its deal with Dreamworks was also motivated by harking back to a bygone era of programming. “Some of the older shows that have done best for us on Netflix are those that parents remember from their childhood … [and as with those] DreamWorks create the sort of stories that appeal on different levels.”

It’s certainly true that parents in their mid-to-late thirties and early forties look back wistfully at the viewing habits of their youth. At the BFI preview event for Yonderland that I attended in October, the show’s creators noted that they had grown up watching comedies such as Blackadder and Monty Python with their parents and so, influenced by that, chose “not to write deliberately for children but to stick to what makes us laugh”.

As a 40-year-old parent I can only applaud this sentiment, although be warned: all this sophisticated family fare could turn your child into an arch armchair critic. When my six-year-old learnt about Doctor Who, we started watching the reboot from the beginning on Netflix. Now she considers Christopher Eccleston, a man who left the show before she was born, “her” Doctor, while dismissing David Tennant as “the man from the TV ads” and Matt Smith as “not right”.

Peter Capaldi should be very afraid…

‘Turbo FAST’ comes to Netflix on 24 Dec. ‘Yonderland’ continues on Sky1, Sundays at 6.30pm and you can catch up with previous episodes on Sky OnDemand

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past