Variety Picks 5 TV Series to Enjoy With the Whole Family

Masterchef Junior
Courtesy of Greg Gayne / FOX

With COVID-19 percolating across the United States and much of the country on lockdown, there’s never been a better time to hunker down at home and partake of TV series befitting the entire family — whether that involves kids, parents or even pets. The following shows have a little something for everyone, whether it’s food (“MasterChef Junior”) acrobatic flips (“American Ninja Warrior”) or characters from the iconic and beloved “Star Wars” franchise.

“American Ninja Warrior”
The show’s mixture of amazing athletic feats and hosts Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila’s infectious enthusiasm has inspired fans of all ages to construct outdoor obstacle courses, imitating their favorite Ninjas. One strength of the show is the way it showcases the stories of the competitors, allowing the viewers to form a bond that, over the years, has become a community. This season, because of the COVID protocols, “ANW” chose the top 50 warriors to compete in the cavernous Dome at America’s Center. The heart-warming twist? Each Ninja brought two people from the local communities to compete with them. Always upbeat and positive, “ANW” also showcases what a person can do if they set their mind to it. Which is something we all teach our children.

“The Great British Bake Off”
There is something soothing about watching this Brit import, where the contestants are not stabbing each other in the back or saying nasty things about each other. Hosts Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding, who took over from Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, watch the amateur bakers get through the signature bake, technical challenges and showstoppers set by judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith (who succeeded Mary Berry). Matt Lucas has followed Toksvig for the 11th season, which is airing on the U.K.’s Channel 4 and Netflix now. Even if some of the concoctions are too complicated to imitate at home, it’s great fun for everyone to see creativity at work.

“The Mandalorian”
(Disney Plus)
What makes “The Mandalorian” so accessible and viewer-friendly is you don’t need to have seen all nine “Star Wars” films or even possess any deep knowledge about the Star Wars franchise to appreciate, understand and relish this new series. In the series, Mando plays our protagonist, a bounty hunter who performs off jobs in exchange for money. His newest job: taking care of the Child, known colloquially as “Baby Yoda.” Witnessing Mando as he raises Baby Yoda —with his cute, dimpled forehead and wide, brown eyes — is a joy for parents and children alike to behold. Once you and your children have watched the series’ complete two seasons, you’ll likely want to dive into the Baby Yoda merchandise. New planets, aliens and action sequences are all featured in “The Mandalorian,” but at its heart is tenderness and humor, which combine to make the series even more alluring.

“The Masked Singer
To the untrained eye, this singing competition looks bizarre — celebrity singers don wildly elaborate costumes and masks to perform anonymously while a panel tries to guess who they are using cryptic clues. Like an old-fashioned variety show dressed up — literally — for the 21st century, the music, costumes and wildly costumed background dancers combine to entertain everyone in the house. The performers’ passion and enthusiasm — as well as a high-energy live audience — explodes from the TV, inviting viewers to sing and dance along. Another hallmark of the show is the narratives of the performers, usually those of triumph over adversity, and performances, even if a bit off-key, are always given an upbeat, positive review. Something we all need now.

“MasterChef Junior”
“MasterChef Junior” is an essential family viewing experience. The stars of the show are no doubt the junior chefs, of course. These adolescent contestants — aged 8-13 years — and selected for their exemplary culinary prowess, cause a stir as they filet and debone fish, pluck chickens and serve up sweet treats. And they often end up being covered in food themselves.
Gordon Ramsay still yells, but he’s nicer around the children than he is around adults. There’s more encouraging words and no swearing here. And while it has all the basic core elements of “MasterChef,” the children are always supportive even during elimination time. Children being children, the show is filled with good-natured humor. “MasterChef Junior” hits the right notes as a family show because it’s bound to inspire young audiences to want to try their hand at making their own dishes in the kitchen.