As weekly scripted shows mostly go on hiatus, summer TV has become the proving ground for every type of reality series.
Unfortunately, with the popularity of ever-more-edgy fare like The Bachelorette and Big Brother, many of these unrealistic competitions are far from family-friendly.
Still, whether on broadcast TV or streaming, families with kids at home have several well-produced, fun, and even inspiring adventure reality series they can enjoy together. Here are four entries in that genre worth seeking out.
American Ninja Warrior (TV-PG, NBC and Hulu)
Drawing millions of fans since its 2009 debut, obstacle-course phenomenon American Ninja Warrior has just launched its 14th season.
A competition grounded in Parkour and CrossFit training, now often seen in gyms and ropes courses nationwide, it’s amazing to witness the physical feats that athletes young and old can accomplish.
Similar to American Idol, the show has increasingly leaned into competitors’ inspirational stories to amp up the emotion and audience buy-in.
Families will have few content concerns, though some may want to be aware that stories of a few LGBTQ-identified athletes are featured.
But, over the years, several of the contestants have been Christian, and the series has showcased that as well. This includes perennial fan favorite and top competitor Sean Bryan, a k a the Papal Ninja.
Here's a video FTP did with him a few years ago, while he was filming a segment for American Ninja Warrior at St. Monica Catholic Church in Santa Monica, California.
Watching these men, women, and teens conquer physical challenges might motivate you or your family to stretch your own fitness routine to new limits.
The Quest (TV-PG, Disney+)
In the land of Everealm, a king dying in battle entrusts an aide with a magical object that can call heroes from another realm.
When a varied group of teens suddenly “appear” at an elaborate Medieval castle, a unique drama plays out in The Quest that’s part scripted high fantasy and part real-life competition involving physical and mental problem-solving.
Only a collaboration of producers from The Chronicles of Narnia films and masterminds behind The Amazing Race could’ve sparked this wildly creative show.
Soon, eight teens are briefed on the larger war: invading forces are coming nearer, and the king’s three heirs are at odds, including with a once-trusted mage who wants to use “dark magic.”
To save the kingdom, contestants must face down foes lurking in surrounding forests and conquer obstacles staged on the castle grounds.
While scenes of peril and fantasy elements (similar to Narnia) may be too much for kids under age 8, overall, The Quest celebrates virtues like teamwork and discipline in its genre-bending narrative.
The Amazing Race (TV-PG, CBS and Paramount+)
After a nearly two-year hiatus due to COVID, top-rated travel competition show The Amazing Race returned in January (but you can catch up on Paramount+).
Season 33 is particularly interesting, not only for its mix of contestants — such as a pair of singing police officers from Buffalo, New York, and internet personalities Penn and Kim Holderness, known for their Christian faith.
But watch for the twist in episode 4, when the pandemic shuts down the show mid-journey.
To be fair to competitors, I did screen some episodes of Race Across the World and other series that have sought to scratch the travel-bug itch with their own spin on globe-trotting.
Frankly, compared to The Amazing Race, they felt low-energy and low-stakes. From its diversity of teams to creative challenges, the world keeps watching as this show delivers.
Floor Is Lava (TV-G, Netflix)
A ridiculously fun competition, Floor Is Lava gives the classic childhood couch-cushions game a bigger stage.
With the clock ticking, teams of three are tasked with leaping across various themed obstacles (i.e. a garage with classic cars) and exiting the room — on a set filled with 90,000 gallons of “lava” where one slip ends their chances.
Season two featuring all-new room obstacles adds a volcano element to cap off each episode, often amping up the fun for a nail-biting finish.
With only good-natured “trash talk” between teammates, the show stays in G-rated territory.
Half of season two premiered in early June on Netflix, with another drop of five episodes expected in coming months.
Image: 'American Ninja Warrior': PHOTO: Elizabeth Morris/NBC
Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith and public-policy issues for various media outlets. He and his wife are raising two children in Northern Virginia.