The best TV shows for families to watch right now

Tylor Tuskmon's first day at work doesn't go to plan.
Tylor Tuskmon's first day at work doesn't go to plan. (Image credit: Disney+)

Bringing the whole family together to share a TV show is no easy task, so check out our guide to the best TV shows for families. With a million and one other distractions, plus the challenge of satisfying multiple ages and finding a show that won’t terrify smaller members of the family, while not boring the socks off older ones, is a mighty challenge. 

So we’ve split our guide into three sections, one for families with younger kids, one for 9+ and one for 12-years and over, plus we’ve given the recommended age restriction so you can make your own informed choice about what is suitable for your brood.

The best TV shows for families with younger children 

Monsters at Work

Tylor Tuskmon meets his new colleagues.

Tylor Tuskmon meets his new colleagues.  (Image credit: Disney+)

Based on the hugely popular and successful Monsters, Inc. franchise, this animation begins as the power-producing factory Monsters, Incorporated, is switching from scare to laugh power. There are a lot of changes afoot as Sulley and Mike discover they are the new bosses and they have a huge job on their hands convincing the workforce that laughter is the way forward.

We also meet new monster Tylor Tuskmon. He's straight out of university, after graduating at the top of his class and he can’t wait to start work as a scarer. Except, the job of scaring the wits out of little children doesn’t exist anymore and he finds himself assigned to MIFT – or Monsters, Incorporated, Facilities Team.

Full of interesting characters, Tylor is initially not impressed by what he sees in MIFT, but then Sulley and Mike remind him that they too started at the bottom – and look at them now!

Why Watch: Tylor first day certainly doesn’t turn out the way he wanted it to, but with a little help from his friends he tries to make the most of the situation he’s in – when life gives you lemons and all that! The characters are great, well-loved and there’s plenty of jokes for grown ups too, which makes this a hit for all ages. 

Where to Watch: Disney+

Age Rating: 6+ (our 5-year-olds were fine with this, if little ones are ok with the films, we think they will be ok with the series.)

Number of Seasons: 1

Episodes: 10

Average episode length: 25 mins

Dug Days

Dog Dug.

The adorable Dug. (Image credit: Disney+)

A real treat for fans of the 2009 film Up is this series of short animations featuring two of its main characters, 78-year-old widower Carl and Dug, the over enthusiastic and completely adorable golden retriever.

Dug wears a special collar that enables him to talk, which will delight younger viewers, he’s also possibly the cutest animated dog in the world, which is also a real draw for viewers of all ages.

In the first episode, entitled Squirrel, Dug meets his nemesis – the clever and greedy squirrel who lives in the tree in his back garden. Carl has given Dug the very important job of guarding his new bird feeder, which of course the squirrel wants to empty and a funny and messy battle begins as Dug tries in vain to outwit the crafty squirrel. Also watch out for the second episode called Puppies, as the cuteness is quite literally off the scale.

Why Watch: A gorgeous animation for younger children, featuring characters they already know and love. It will also have little ones laughing out loud as big-hearted Dug tries so very hard to be the best dog he can be.

Where to Watch: Disney+

Age Rating: U

Number of Seasons: 1

Episodes: 5

Average episode length: 11 mins

Dragons: Race to the Edge

Toothless and Hiccup.

Toothless and Hiccup. (Image credit: Netflix)

We’ve tried to avoid too many animations as they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but with its strong storytelling and great characters this series is a delight for all the family. 

Based on the brilliant How to Train Your Dragon books by Cressida Cowell, this series begins with peace and harmony reigning over the Viking island of Berk as humans and dragons live and thrive together.

But the peace doesn't last long as the news that villain 'Dagur the Deranged' has escaped from prison and is heading for Berk. Hiccup and Toothless lead the hunt to find the notorious criminal, uniting his group of trusted friends – Astrid, Fishlegs, Snotlout and twins, Tuffnut and Ruffnut – once more.

Why Watch: It looks beautiful and the bond between teen and dragon is a joy to behold. It’s full of adventure and brave, smart characters. There are also some great villains and imaginative dragons, although a word of warning, they might scare some younger viewers. 

Where to Watch: Netflix

Age Rating: PG

Number of Seasons: 6

Episodes: 78

Average episode length: 23 mins

Free Rein

The cast of Free Rein.

The cast of Free Rein. (Image credit: Netflix)

Horse-lovers will adore this series about Zoe, a 15-year-old American girl who spends the summer in England with her grandpa, little sister and mum.

In the first episode, while searching for her little sister Rosie, who Zoe describes as looking like, ‘an angry ball of glitter,’ she comes across two girls on horseback who immediately want to be friends. She also learns that a horse called Raven has gone missing from the stables where the girls spend their summer. 

Back on the hunt for her sister, Zoe soon meets Raven as the wild horse gallops towards her on the beach. But the pair strike up a friendship as they bond over being two outsiders trying to find their feet in an unfamiliar world. 

The content is for slightly older viewers, although younger children will still love the beautiful horses and the strong friendship between the girls. 

Why Watch: Zoe is a great central character, she’s strong and independent, with a sharp sense of humour and strong sense of right and wrong. Filmed on the island of Anglesey, off the coast of Wales, it also looks beautiful as the girls gallop around the island on one of their many adventures. 

Where to Watch: Netflix

Age Rating: PG

Number of Seasons: 3

Episodes: 30

Average episode length: 26 mins

Ponysitters Club

A must-see for younger animal-lovers, this sweet and gentle show is based around a group of friends who help out at the Rescue Ranch, a place that treats and rehabilitates neglected and injured animals. 

While the loyal and hard-working friends look after the animals, they also help each other to be the best they can be, overcoming difficulties with oodles of kindness and determination.

Why Watch: There are animals everywhere! While the characters love their ponies and horses, the ranch is also full of goats, ducks, rabbits, dogs and cats, which our younger viewers really enjoyed. 

Where to Watch: Netflix

Age Rating: U

Number of Seasons: 2

Episodes: 20

Average episode length: 22 mins

Floor is Lava

Don't fall in to the lava!

Don't fall in to the lava! (Image credit: Netflix)

Billed as, ‘The hottest game show in history,’ three teams compete to make it across a room, filled with obstacles and of course lots of bubbling red lava! 

If a player can make it from the entrance to the exit without falling in they win a point for their team. But if they fall, they are out.

Why Watch: This show inspires all the family to build their own courses in living rooms, gardens, parks and playgrounds. It’s great fun and encourages bravery, physical fitness and cooperation.

Where to Watch: Netflix

Age Rating: PG

Number of Seasons: 1

Episodes: 10

Average episode length: 31 mins

Best TV shows for families with kids aged 9+

Dive Club

The cast of Dive Club.

The cast of Dive Club. (Image credit: Netflix)

An Australian teen drama about a group of feisty and fun girls who love to dive off the coast of Cape Mercy, the small and close-knit town where they live. But when a terrible storm hits and one of their gang, Lauren, goes missing, the group must pull together like never before to discover what happened. 

Younger viewers will enjoy the strong sense of friendship between the main characters and how they never give up, but the main storyline is all about a missing girl and there are frightening and tense moments as the girls discover what really happened to Lauren, so parental discretion is needed. 

Why Watch: It looks gorgeous, with crystal clear water and sandy beaches. The characters are also great, especially the group of girls who are resourceful, smart and never give up on their missing friend. 

Where to Watch: Netflix

Age Rating: PG

Number of Seasons: 1

Episodes: 12

Average episode length: 27 mins

Doctor Who

The current Doctor Who cast.

The current Doctor Who cast. (Image credit: BBC)

The iconic British series, which started in 1963, currently sees the 13th Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker, the first female to star in the role, zooming around the galaxy, battling aliens and saving the world.

Each week the Doctor and her companions face a new intergalactic foe. They also travel through time allowing the Doctor and her gang to visit some well-known historical figures like Rosa Parks in series 11 and Thomas Edison in series 12.

Why Watch: With a brilliant team of writers, it tells a great story week in, week out. It’s full of action and although it can be a little scary, it is also full of heart and love for the human race. 

Where to watch: BBC America in the US and BBC iPlayer in the UK

Number of Seasons: 12 (since the 2005 revival)

Episodes: 22 with the current doctor, 127 others are available since the series was revived in 2005.

Average episode length: 44 mins

Doogie Kameāloha M.D.

TV tonight Lahela ‘Doogie’ Kamealoha (Peyton Elizabeth Lee)

Lahela ‘Doogie’ Kameāloha (Peyton Elizabeth Lee). (Image credit: Disney+)

Inspired by the 1989–93 series Doogie Howser M.D. this updated version is set in Hawaii with 16-year-old Lahela (Peyton Elizabeth Lee) as the young doctor. 

The series starts on Lahela’s 16th birthday as she goes surfing with her dad in the beautiful Hawaiian waves. While later taking her driving test, she comes across a road accident and viewers see Dr Lahela in action as she leaps from the car and saves the patient’s life (or certainly his leg) by the roadside.

But life for a teenage doctor isn’t always straightforward. Lahela is desperate to stay out late after the school dance with her date Walter, but her mum, who is also her boss at the hospital, reminds her she has work tomorrow so there’ll be no partying till the small hours.

Why Watch: Lahela is a great role model and the series has a positive and fun vibe. While parents will enjoy reminiscing about the original series, children will love how capable and resourceful Lahela is. One word of warning however, our 10-year-old male viewer found parts a little cringey, but overall this is one for the whole family to enjoy. 

Where to Watch: Disney+

Age Rating: 9+

Number of Seasons: 1

Episodes: 4 so far - released weekly with 8 in total

Average episode length: 43 mins

Turner & Hooch

Scott and Hooch.

Scott and Hooch. (Image credit: Disney+)

A new series based on the original 1989 film starring Tom Hanks. Paying homage to the original movie, Hanks’s character may have passed away but his son has followed in his law-enforcing footsteps to become a US Marshall and is also called Scott. From beyond the grave Scott senior gifts his son a huge dog to help him with his work.   

This Hooch is just as slobbery as the original and initially doesn’t impress anyone with his investigating skills, except for dog trainer Erica (Vanessa Lengus) who takes a shine to Hooch and his owner Scott. 

Why Watch: One word – Hooch! A Dogue de Bordeaux breed he’s completely adorable – and the humans do a pretty good job of making this fun for all the family with plenty of action and intrigue. 

Where to Watch: Disney +

Age Rating: 9+

Number of Seasons: 1

Episodes: 12

Average episode length: 43 mins

Penguin Town

On the road in Penguin Town.

On the road in Penguin Town. (Image credit: Netflix)

Every year Simon’s Town in South Africa is invaded by some very unusual visitors. In November the streets of the coastal town start filling up with little black and white birds, waddling from the beaches up into the streets, roads and gardens of this most unusual place.

The endangered African Penguin has decided that the town is the best place to find a nest and breed and the locals are only too happy to let them take over the town with over 1000 pairs moving in.

Why Watch: It’s a very sweet and gentle watch. Many of the birds are given names (the Bougainvilleas are an experienced couple, while Junior is a bit of a trouble-maker), as the cameras follow their mating mission to find the best spot to raise the next generation. 

Where to Watch: Netflix

Age Rating: PG

Number of Seasons: 1

Episodes: 8

Average episode length: 28 mins

His Dark Materials

The cast of His Dark Materials.

The cast of His Dark Materials. (Image credit: BBC)

Based on the trilogy of novels by Philip Pullman, the action follows a girl called Lyra and her spirit animal known as a daemon called Pan. She fearlessly takes on the authorities, known as the Magisterium and the controlling Mrs Coulter (who also happens to be her mother) to rescue her friend Roger, who has been kidnapped by the mysterious Gobblers. 

Alongside her rescue of Roger she also longs to discover more about the work of her uncle, polar explorer Lord Asriel. He’s investigating a substance known as Dust and how it connects parallel universes.

Why Watch: The cast is outstanding with actor Dafne Keen as the fearless Lyra, Ruth Wilson as the terrifying Mrs Coulter, James McAvoy as the maverick Lord Asriel and Lin-Manuel Miranda as aeronaut Lee Scorsby. Sophisticated and brilliantly done, a must see.

Where to watch:  HBO Max in America and BBC iPlayer in the UK

Number of Seasons: 2

Episodes: 15

Average episode length: 50 mins

The best TV shows for families with children aged 12+


Tom Hiddleston as Loki.

Tom Hiddleston as Loki. (Image credit: Disney+)

Tom Hiddleston resumes his role of Loki for this 6-episode Marvel series about what happens to the god of mischief after he stole the Tesseract during the 2019 film Avengers: Endgame.

Much to Loki’s disbelief and indignation he’s arrested by the Time Variance Authority or TVA and taken into a bureaucratic nightmare to be processed. His crime is that he deviated off the sacred timeline, which is protected by the time keepers, who like to erase anyone found to be a time deviant. 

But Loki is thrown a lifeline by Mobius M. Mobius, played by Owen Wilson, an agent of TVA who offers Loki a choice, help him and survive or don’t and bye bye.

Why Watch: Marvel fans will love this sophisticated series, based on characters they already know and love. 

Where to Watch: Disney+

Age Rating: 12+

Number of Seasons: 1

Episodes: 6

Average episode length: 49 min

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier 

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. (Image credit: Disney+)

Another classy spin-off from the Marvel franchise, this action-packed series focuses on two really interesting characters from the Avengers films – Sam Wilson and James 'Bucky' Barnes or The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.

The thrilling opening sequence sets the tone for the whole of this big-budget and sophisticated series as The Falcon is sent on a secret mission to rescue a soldier from a hijacked plane. The stunts and special effects are jaw-dropping. 

But this is also a series with heart. Sam is struggling with Steve Rogers (Captain America) no longer being around and questioning whether he can ever take on the role? Bucky is also a  troubled soul as he tries to come to terms with his past and work out what the future looks like for him now?

Why Watch: It’s a brilliant and exciting series with well-thought out characters and plenty of action and explosions. It’s definitely not for younger viewers, but older kids will love this slick and fast-paced series. 

Where to Watch: Disney+

Age Rating: 12+

Number of Seasons: 1

Episodes: 6

Average episode length: 53 mins 

What If…?

An intriguing new animation from Marvel based upon the idea that one tiny moment in time has the power to change the universe. 

In the first episode the ‘what if’ question is what if Agent Peggy Carter became superhuman instead of Steve Rogers? How would the world cope if the person sent to save them was a girl?

After facing sexism and disappointment from her superiors, who claim that because women don't fight on the frontline in the 1940s the whole project has been a complete waste of time and money. But Captain Carter, as Peggy becomes known as, decides she can prove her doubters wrong and soon starts showing them what she is really made of.

Other what if questions are; what if Nick Fury couldn’t start the Avengers in the first place and what if a zombie plague hit the Avengers!?

Why Watch: A gutsy and action-packed series that takes a much-loved franchise and twists it so new heroes are created and new stories written. An ambitious concept with endless possibilities.

Where to Watch: Disney+

Age Rating: 12+

Number of Seasons: 1

Episodes: 7

Average episode length: 35 mins

Joanne Lowles
Freelance writer and editor

Joanne Lowles has been writing about TV since 2002. After graduating from Cardiff University with a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism, she worked for All About Soap magazine covering the ups and downs of life on the cobbles, the square and the Dales. 

Next came nearly 10 years at TV Times magazine as a writer and then deputy features editor. Here she spent many happy days interviewing the biggest names in entertainment and visiting the sets of some of our most popular shows including Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife and Strictly Come Dancing

With a love of nature and wildlife she’s also interviewed the leading experts in this area including David Attenborough, Chris Packham and Steve Backshall. She’s also travelled the world visiting Mongolia, Canada and South Africa to see how the best in the business make the most brilliant natural history documentaries. 

Freelance since 2013, she is now is a digital writer and editor for What to Watch, previews the best on the box for TV Times mag each week and loves being constantly surprised, entertained and informed by the amazing TV that she is lucky enough to watch.