Help us find entertainment the whole family can enjoy
November 28, 2015 11:57 PM   Subscribe

My parents are staying with me for approximately six weeks while my dad undergoes treatment for cancer. We don't always get along especially well, and he's starting to feel a little bit bored/stir-crazy. We're looking for activities/entertainment we can enjoy as a family, especially movies and TV shows that tick all the right boxes.

My dad is very much a homebody and doesn't have many hobbies; this is even more the case now that he's several hours' drive from his friends, and is often drained as a result of the treatments he's undergoing. My apartment is small and he finds it difficult to relax and find space of his own.

My mom and I share a variety of interests: we're both outdoorsy, we love shopping, dining out, exploring new neighborhoods, etc. But while we're out enjoying ourselves, my poor dad is cooped up in a tiny space, where he pretty much just sleeps, eats, and watches daytime talk shows. Attempts to get him to leave the apartment and Do Stuff with us haven't been very successful, unless they're short and stress-free outings.

We've had minor success with:
- taking their dog to the dog park
- playing board games (nothing too involved or time-consuming though; to give you an idea, Ticket to Ride was a big success, Settlers of Catan was too boring/complicated)
- doing small home improvement tasks that don't require much physical exertion.

During past visits, we've really enjoyed binge-watching movies and TV series. Some examples of things we've enjoyed watching together:
- The "Up" series of movies ("Seven Up", "Seven Plus Seven", etc)
- Bryan Fuller's earlier shows (especially Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies; I'm obsessed with Hannibal but horror is a no-go for both parents)
- Downton Abbey
- Curb Your Enthusiasm
- Arrested Development
- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Basically, they like fairly light, engrossing fare: nothing scary or gritty, nothing involving sci-fi, nothing "boring" (e.g. Mad Men), nothing "weird" (e.g. Twin Peaks) nothing with a million characters to remember. They're not prudish and are fine with "mature content" as long as it isn't gore.

I have subscriptions to basically all of the major streaming services (Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime). So if you know of any media that meets the above criteria, or if you can think of any other activities to stave off my dad's boredom and encroaching depression, my family would be extremely grateful! Thank you in advance.
posted by Pizzarina Sbarro to Grab Bag (39 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I really loved watching the Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries series on Netflix. Very lighthearted and fun. Think more flirty 20's Murder She Wrote (only with character development) instead of like, the Wire.

The Great British Baking Competition (actually Bake Off, but they had to change the name) is also on Netflix, and it's the epitome of light but entertaining TV. It's a competition reality show without any of the personality drama. The tension is all in whether these very nice ordinary people will be able to pull off these difficult challenges.

I've gotten my parents hooked on both of these when we were snowed in on previous Christmases.

If he's okay with small DIY would some 'manly' craft type things interest him? Fly tying, paracord braiding, that sort of thing? You can have small outings to go get materials for him, and then he has something to keep his hands and mind busy in the meantime.
posted by Caravantea at 12:18 AM on November 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

Parks & Rec and New Girl come to mind. I'd also suggest Psych--eight seasons of light humor, growing warmth among the characters, absurd parodies of other genres, and silly plots reminiscent of 70s/80s detective shows. My wife liked it enough to watch episodes without me sometimes, though there's sexism like that in 80s detective shows too. What also fills this "pass the time with no tension" niche for us are home renovation shows like Love it or Leave it, Flip or Flop, Property Brothers, etc.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:42 AM on November 29, 2015

Season one of Jane the Virgin is streaming on Netflix, and it's an absolute delight. It's funny and smart.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:43 AM on November 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Perhaps some more of the BBC fare if they like Downton Abbey? Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime has been released in the US, I think. I watch the BBC a lot when I'm sick, because it excels at tv which is smart but not too violent.

When my father was ill and less mobile, he enjoyed Flinch, Sorry, and Yahtzee. All are fairly simple, but are fun and involve some strategy. He had a handheld Yahtzee electronic game which drove me mad, but he loved it and it kept his mind working.

Do you have an outdoor space? Gardening is low exertion, requires some planning and involves fresh air. Are there activities outside of the house like bowling which he could like and that the rest of you wouldn't mind? What about cooking? Is there some kind of cooking he's used to doing (grilling, for many men) which you could ask him to do while you're out with your mother?

Focus on what he normally would have done with his friends. Your Father is Not My Father, but once my father became ill, his tolerance for new things was very very low. So he would resist a jaunt to a national park, but would enjoy a local bowling alley. What would feel familiar and comfortable and still build a sense of accomplishment?
posted by frumiousb at 12:43 AM on November 29, 2015

I know it sounds ridiculous, but may I suggest Columbo? There's 7 seasons of it on Netflix and my wife and I recently watched all of it. The mysteries are still excellent and engrossing, and it's neat seeing how different things were in the 60s and 70s when it was shot (compared to modern detective shows) as well as recognizing actors who wouldn't become famous until later.

Also, Peter Falk's acting is a real treat.
posted by sleeping bear at 12:57 AM on November 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

Jigsaw puzzles?
Download some games onto a smartphone or tablet for him. I like word games played agaist other people. They will match you up with strangers but you don't have to "talk" to them unless you want to.
Words With Friends
Word Crack...all free on Google Play Store.
I really liked the TV show Treme. Very , very good, I checked it out at the library.
Recently blew through Longmire, it's on Netflix.
Does he like to listen to audio books? There have been some great threads for those on the green.
My family plays Rummikube and Millbournes. Mastermind is good for 2 people.
posted by BoscosMom at 1:22 AM on November 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

BBC's Death in Paradise. There are currently 3 seasons on Netflix and it is delightfully light and cheerful, unchallenging but engrossing. It requires a little suspension of disbelief sometimes, but isn't IQ lowering.

The appeal of Death in Paradise is so maddeningly straightforward that would-be crime drama writers must be elaborately murdering themselves with frustration. It’s an undemanding detective show, with nice Caribbean scenery. That really is it. Check the forums, and commenter after commenter simply says it’s pleasant to watch a programme set in an exotic location when it’s dark and cold outside.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:50 AM on November 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Office
Burn Notice

If you have an iPad maybe some Boardgames for that?

Perhaps some YouTube channels might work?
posted by backwards guitar at 2:33 AM on November 29, 2015

Drunk History is a fun show, as long as they're not bothered by drunk people and profanity. Here's a sample from season one, episode two.

You might find good suggestions for board/card games here.
posted by neushoorn at 2:57 AM on November 29, 2015

We like a lot of the shows you listed, and My first thought was Parks and Rec too. Also Kingdom (very mild mystery set in a quirky small town England with Stephen Fry), River Cottage, Monk, Jeeves and Wooster (Stephen fry and Hugh laurie - Hulu, I think), Father Ted. Gilmore Girls? Black Books?
posted by jrobin276 at 3:02 AM on November 29, 2015

How about more period dramas? The BBC Pride and Prejudice, with Colin Firth, runs for about six hours; there's also a good BBC Vanity Fair series from 1998 and the recent Bleak House and Little Dorrit.

If you liked the Up series, you could also watch the Up New Generation episodes, which started in 2000 and made it to 21 Up last year. I've also heard of a Russian version of the Up concept that is fascinating, though I don't know if it's available to stream anywhere.
posted by Aravis76 at 3:05 AM on November 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Add Doc Martin to your list of BBC shows, there are 6 seasons available on Netflix, it's delightful.
posted by HuronBob at 3:14 AM on November 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding Great British Bakeoff.

Also, Foyle's War has always seemed to go down well with older people of my acquaintance. It's a detective show but gentle and British and never gory, with period elements as well as the satisfaction of a crime solved.
posted by escapepod at 3:37 AM on November 29, 2015 [6 favorites]

Doc Martin was a huge hit with my parents. My mum is similar to yours - Dad doesn't really enjoy the company of anything that doesn't have a steam engine.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 3:50 AM on November 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

My grown up kids were all just here for a visit and our cable went out (Comcast sucks) so we got out some ancient movies like Mary Poppins, Pocahontas, Tarzan and a lot of other movies we had all but memorized when they were kids.

I cannot begin to tell you how many feel-good endorphins were in the room as we were all singing "You'll Be in My Heart" from Tarzan.

Conversely, maybe your dad has favorite classic movies with Abbott and Costello or TV shows like I Love Lucy. He might get a kick from the entertainment he remembers. Maybe he was a fan of Welcome Back, Mr. Kotter or Sanford and Son? Find out and get some old school faves.

One thing about entertainment from the past is it doesn't require any focus on plot or character, so in a lot of ways it's very relaxing, but it also pulls upon memories of when everyone was happy and carefree so it kind of feels good to watch.

Non-TV ideas. Adult coloring books are now A THING. Would he want to make airplanes or car models? Build with adult Legos?
posted by kinetic at 4:14 AM on November 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've binge watched Property Brothers with family before which works out pretty well. There's lots to talk about regarding the homes/design.

I just discovered Going Deep with David Rees. The first episode is about making a perfect ice cube and it looks pretty easy to do at home.

I'd also suggest some old school card games like war or gin that you can play while you have tv on in the background.
posted by betsybetsy at 4:22 AM on November 29, 2015

Another suggestion in the Columbo vein: The Rockford Files.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:43 AM on November 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Jane the Virgin, first full season is on Netflix.
posted by hooray at 4:52 AM on November 29, 2015

I recently started watching episodes of Every Frame a Painting on Youtube. They're short video essays (six minutes or so) highlighting various aspects of film direction, editing, etc. They are fascinating and eminently bingeable - I usually end up watching five or ten or so at a stretch. However, I think an even better way to watch them, if you were committed to the project, would be to really use them as a deep dive into flim history. Watch until you find an episode that intrigues you - say, his piece on Buster Keaton's use of physical comedy - and then go watch a bunch of Buster Keaton; watching his piece on Chuck Jones and then watch an hour or so of Looney Tunes. Talk about it with your parents. Make a standing date to do it every evening for an hour. Call it Film History 101.

I usually burn out on watching straight TV after an hour or so, but if I can trick myself into feeling like I'm learning something, I can easily get sucked in for hours - and I feel a bit better about myself afterwards, too. If your dad needs a project (some of these might be a little harder to do with other people) you might also point him here: each link is basically just a massive potential timesuck/research project in the making.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 5:02 AM on November 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

What about The Gilmore Girls? It's light and funny and set in small-town Connecticut. It's focused mainly on family relationships and there's some romantic drama and lots of silly moments, but there are also some really sweet, touching ones too. It's not dark or gritty or gorey. It's just fun.
posted by colfax at 5:07 AM on November 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Masters of None is getting good buzz. Friday Night Lights is super good. Ugly Betty is fun (but might be too weird for them).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:03 AM on November 29, 2015

Dead Like Me?
posted by listen, lady at 6:06 AM on November 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

My nephew and I spent a couple of hours playing with an iPhone app called The Akinator, which involves you coming up with a real or fictional character and the app asking you a bunch of yes or no questions and then trying to guess it. You get points if you come up with a really obscure character and the thing guesses it. It was a surprisingly fun way to spend some time. It's pretty good: it got random children's book characters (Mike Mulligan of steam shovel fame) and silent movie stars, for instance.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:30 AM on November 29, 2015

I came in to recommend Foyle's War (streaming on Netflix), and seeing it's already been recommended, I'd like to second it. A friend of mine used it for similar purposes--mom undergoing cancer treatment, fidgety dad, need for family entertainment--and it worked brilliantly. They ended up watching the whole series twice through, I think. It's a British WWII period piece, with mysteries, and Michael Kitchen (Foyle) in particular is wonderful.

(If anyone has hearing difficulties, one of the characters (Sam) starts out as quite the mumbler, but she improves over time.)
posted by theatro at 7:19 AM on November 29, 2015

I have been watching Mr Selfridge - similar in tone and time period to Downton Abbey. It is PBS, maybe originating on BBC. I've been watching on Amazon. Also good on Amazon are Alpha House (original sitcom about a group of senators that share a house) and Mozart in the Jungle (sitcom about the classical music scene in NYC). I also really liked Family Tree, which originally aired on HBO. It is a Christopher Guest sitcom (he made the movies Best In Show and A Mighty Wind) which means odd characters and improvised dialog. May work if they liked Arrested Development. There's only one season though, which is a letdown.

I liked the Chef's Table documentaries on Netflix (not Mind of a Chef). They are thoughtful and beautifully shot, and give you a real sense of the chef as a creative person. An Idiot Abroad is entertaining, and much more warm hearted than the premise makes it sound. Also on Netflix.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a good contemporary sitcom with a warm and goofy feel. It's on Hulu.
posted by jeoc at 7:19 AM on November 29, 2015

Doc Martin! Everyone loves Doc Martin. It's a show that you can all watch together and then talk about after.

I just finished watching The Worst Cooks in America with my kids. We cheered and yelled at the t.v. like some people do for sports. It was very engaging. It might be a good fit for your family, as it could encourage your dad wanting to try new foods or you and your mom could have a competition for your dad to judge.
posted by myselfasme at 7:35 AM on November 29, 2015

I'd suggest Master of None (Netflix), the Mindy Project (Hulu), and Call the Midwife (Netflix).
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:42 AM on November 29, 2015

BBC -- Lark Rise to Candleford. Gentle, charming, period drama. (And "hell yes" to Doc Martin, very entertaining.) Another BBC drama I liked was "Kingdom," about a small-town solicitor (Stephen Fry) with relatively wacky clients. Sadly only 3 series.

Great Bake-Off?

I am hooked on this CBC family drama called "Heartland" which is set on a horse ranch in Alberta and is entirely appropriate for 12-year-olds to watch with their parents. There's a core of maybe 10 or 12 characters and the tone is always hopeful. The through-line is low-key family drama -- grandpa had a heart attack but still wants to work too hard on the ranch! Ty might not get good enough grades to go to vet school! Lou isn't sure if she wants to move out! -- and then every week there's some horse-related plot where they're training horses or rescuing mustangs or treating unusual horse illnesses or whatever. Sometimes evil oil men show up to be evil. It has 22-episode seasons, like American TV, and there are like 8 or 9 seasons now, so there's a LOT OF IT.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:49 AM on November 29, 2015

Since it's the Christmas season, a lot of first run shows are going on hiatus until the new year. I got the idea of things to do during the season to stave off the URGS that I get from it.

1. Drive around the neighborhood to see Christmas decorations. Stop for hot chocolate and pie on the way home.

2. Catch a kids Christmas pageant. Perhaps at a parochial school, or local church.

3. Decorate your tree (assuming you have one).

4. Make and decorate Christmas cookies.

5. Have a low key pot luck supper with neighbors.

6. Plan out some Christmas movies to watch. I like Nativity! I also like the special, Olive the other Reindeer.

Have a happy holiday!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:25 AM on November 29, 2015

My mom and I just watched the live-action Cinderella on Thanksgiving, and it's a lovely family film--very traditional, but also lively and sweet, and the costumes and ball scene are just gorgeous.
We've also been watching a show on Netflix called Extreme Homes that profiles unusual houses--it's harmless and lightweight, and it's fun to admire the pretty homes and judge the ugly ones. A lot of renovation/antiquing shows are good for your needs, I think--American Pickers or Antiques Roadshow, for example, which are also on Netflix.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 8:44 AM on November 29, 2015

I'm taking care of a friend under similar circumstances and dealt with it by getting her addicted to video games, Don't Starve in particular. In my experience, beginning to play a particularly addicting video game is like time traveling several weeks into the future.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:52 AM on November 29, 2015

Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. Each episode visits different local eateries. It's like soft-core food porn. isn't working for me now but I'm sure it's readily available.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:05 AM on November 29, 2015

Would any of the numerous cooking shows or food centric travel shows fit the bill?
posted by mmascolino at 5:22 PM on November 29, 2015

I can relate to this exactly, except I'm the one with cancer, living in my parents' house. We have nothing in common, but these are the tv shows we can all enjoy:
Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
Great British Bake Off
The Amazing Race
Father Brown
Death in Paradise
The Librarians
posted by MsMolly at 8:34 PM on November 29, 2015

Oh, and Magnum P.I.
posted by MsMolly at 8:38 PM on November 29, 2015

When my mother-in-law had cancer, I called the cable company and said, "My mother-in-law has cancer and she is moving in with us and I need something to keep her entertained." The sympathetic agent on the phone said, "Oh, honey, I'm so sorry. Here are the absolute best deals I can give you on all the premium channels." The deal lasted for 6 months, the cost was pretty cheap and my MIL was entertained. Medical marijuana helped.
posted by kamikazegopher at 12:14 AM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a little late to the party but I'd like to recommend Rosemary and Thyme, a British murder mystery show that I am pretty sure is on Netflix. As a few people above mentioned, British TV is top-notch for gore-light but still entertaining fare. The aforementioned Rosemary and Thyme are a pair of middle-aged female gardeners who keep stumbling into and solving murders. It's as much garden porn as it is murder mystery, so if he is at all interested in landscaping/gardening, it seems perfect.
posted by possibilityleft at 7:02 AM on November 30, 2015

Jigsaw puzzles.
posted by moons in june at 2:06 PM on November 30, 2015

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