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Summer TV: 'MasterChef Junior,' 'Planet Earth II'


It's summer. Maybe your kids are home from school. Maybe it's just too hot to go outside. So what do you do? Well, if you'll allow me to offer a tried and true suggestion - television. That's right - television. We've been soliciting recommendations from our favorite TV critics over the past few weeks. And, today, we've invited James Poniewozik, chief television critic for The New York Times, to give us some ideas that will entertain and perhaps enlighten the whole family. James, welcome.

JAMES PONIEWOZIK: Thanks for having me.

GONYEA: All right. So you are coming to us with recommendations, one of which surprised me a little, reality television - something that you have described as the new family television. Explain.

PONIEWOZIK: Yeah. Honestly, as a TV critic, it's one of the most common questions I get asked - what can I watch with my kids together as a family? And it's a tough question because different kids are different. A 6-year-old is different from a 16-year-old. And my blanket answer in the past few years has been reality TV. And people always respond a little funny at first because they think I'm suggesting watching, you know, "Bachelor In Paradise" with your kids.

GONYEA: Or "Real Housewives" of wherever.

PONIEWOZIK: Yes, exactly. But I've actually had great times with my own kids watching particularly competition reality shows. I have one son who is an absolute "Survivor" super fan. We've watched "The Amazing Race," "MasterChef Junior." Those sorts of programs - it's almost like watching sports with your kids, in that there's a competition element. There are interpersonal elements. One I particularly love right now...


PAUL HOLLYWOOD: What the problem is - when you put coconut into a cake like that, it tends to bind the whole thing together.


HOLLYWOOD: And so it's like chewing on wallpaper paste.

PONIEWOZIK: ...Is "The Great British Baking Show."


MARY BERRY: Lovely texture, perfect bake all the way around.

HOLLYWOOD: I love it. I think the flavors coming through are stunning. Well done.

PONIEWOZIK: You can appreciate the show on the sheer food level. You can appreciate it on, you know, the entertainment level. It has, you know, delightful personalities in the hosts and contestants. It's really something where, you know, you can appreciate as an adult or as a 6-year-old in ways that neither of you is going to feel embarrassed to be watching it with the other.

GONYEA: You are also recommending a documentary, "Planet Earth II." Tell us about it.

PONIEWOZIK: Yes, this is one of the follow-ups to the original "Planet Earth," which aired here in the United States on Discovery Channel and is just an amazing sort of world tour of habitats, ecosystems and the creatures that inhabit the planet.


DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: In dragon society, size is everything. But if rivals are closely matched, the outcome can be uncertain. Muscular tails strike with the power of sledgehammers. And their serrated teeth are as sharp as steak knives.

PONIEWOZIK: What is amazing in "Planet Earth" and "Planet Earth II" and related documentaries like this are the things that you can do with technology now. The amount of detail and sort of fly-on-the-wall camera work that really places you in the middle of nature and kind of intimately with the subject animals in a way that was never possible in the past. So, you know, in addition to being fantastic eye candy, it's very smart but accessible science programming.

GONYEA: Any other shows you've been watching with your family this summer?

PONIEWOZIK: My kids are a bit older. They're both teenagers now. And I've just introduced them to "Buffy The Vampire Slayer," which we are smack in the middle of. If you have older kids, I highly recommend it. It's really a smartly written, funny, insightful show not just about the supernatural but about being a teenager. In general, it's an example of another kind of general piece of advice I give for parents, which is that, really, streaming TV has been a godsend for people, you know, looking for things to watch with their family because you have all of TV history to draw from rather than just what happens to be on TV tonight.

GONYEA: James Poniewozik, chief television critic for The New York Times, thanks for joining us.

PONIEWOZIK: Thanks for having me, Don. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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