Lessons in Chemistry parental guide: Why is the Apple TV+ series rated TV-MA?

Lessons in Chemistry key art
Lessons in Chemistry key art /

Lessons in Chemistry has made its debut on Apple TV+. The limited series, adapted from the popular novel of the same name by Bonnie Garmus, follows the life of Elizabeth Zott. The brilliant chemist is the host of Supper at Six, a nightly program that has viewers enthralled not only because of her scientifically based recipes but also her ability to call attention to gender inequalities and how hard it is to run a household.

The first two episodes have premiered and subscribers can expect one episode to release weekly on Fridays until the finale is available to stream on Nov. 24. This eight episode series has been highly anticipated since news broke that Brie Larson would be starring as Elizabeth. The Academy Award winning actress has had an amazing career and Lessons in Chemistry is her first time leading a television series. She also serves as an executive producer.

Larson’s involvement, and the premise of the series, has parents wondering if the show is suitable for kids. As a Marvel actor, some of Larson’s fan base includes minors who have begun checking out more of her work because of her starring turn as Captain Marvel (which she will reprise in The Marvels). Not to mention period dramas are an opportunity for viewers to learn, through fictionalized storytelling, what life was like in bygone eras of a certain region–in this instance its 1950s and ’60s California.

If Lessons in Chemistry‘s TV-MA rating hasn’t deterred you from still considering letting your under 17 viewer watch the show, here’s what you need to know concerning what’s in at least the first two episodes of the series.

Why is Lessons in Chemistry rated TV-MA? (What parents need to know)

Lessons in Chemistry does include profanity, alcohol consumption, and smoking. Period typical sexism is shown throughout. One of the major plot points of the series is Elizabeth’s struggle to be recognized as a capable chemist whose work could be crucial to scientific breakthroughs but who is often discounted and overlooked.

Her job is under threat multiple times in the first two episodes, she’s forced to participate in a very gendered workplace practice that she’s uninterested in, and she deals with her colleagues making rude, sexist comments about her capabilities.

The series depicts a harrowing scene of sexual assault in its second episode. While the rape isn’t lingered on or sensationalized it is a present part of the story and its aftermath affects the plot. Flashbacks of the crime begin in the show’s premiere.

Period typical racism is also throughout the series. The 1950s and ’60s are when the civil rights movement took place. While Lessons in Chemistry is set in California, that doesn’t mean there weren’t issues of racial disparity.

Aja Naomi King’s character, Harriett Sloane, is leading a group intent on stopping a freeway from being run through their community, Sugar Hill. It is a predominately Black neighborhood that is under threat of being displaced for the sake of progress and helping the “blighted” communities in the surrounding area (spoiler alert: these communities aren’t inhospitable or rundown).

There’s also an unexpected and gruesome death in episode 2, however, the body is not shown but what happens does qualify as a jump scare and could be distressing. As for sexuality, the consensual intimacy is loving but not graphic in the first two episodes of the series.

All in all, Lessons in Chemistry isn’t suitable for children, but if your teenager is interested in watching the show, they should be fine viewing it if they have seen R rated period dramas. But you should definitely take into consideration the depiction of sexual violence in episode 2.

If it is not a triggering experience for yourself, you may want to view it first to see if you’d prefer to fast forward the sequence and explain it to your older child instead of letting them watch it or if you’d like to be present so you can unpack what happened and answer any questions they may have about the scene.

This series also may lead to some frank discussions about American history but these are the kind of talks the show is hoping to provoke by shedding light on what life was like for a woman, a Black person, or someone who happens to be both at the same time during this period.

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