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October 13, 2015

TV 101: Frak You!! Seven Examples of Censorship That Made TV Better

by Jay Black, posted Aug 20th 2010 3:30PM
Tricia Helfer - Does this image only marginally relate to the topic at hand? Yeah, but look at her. (/linkbait)This week, PETA helped make a completely forgettable Chrysler commercial into something funny and kind of wonderful.

The ad in question is for something called the "Dodge Big Tent Event", which is designed to both move end-of-model-year vehicles and test America's tolerance for misusing the word "event". In it, as cars roll out of a tent, Michael C. Hall of 'Dexter' narrates that the "event could not be more amazing," at which point a chimp wearing an Evel Knievel costume shows up and presses a dynamite plunger. A meek explosion of confetti follows as Hall deadpans, "I stand corrected."

PETA, an organization always at the forefront of the most important issues gripping both man and animal, immediately protested due to the poor conditions "actor" simians must face, including -- but not limited to -- hanging out with Matt LeBlanc, sleeping with chimp producers for chimp roles, and boxing Clint Eastwood.

Chrysler responded to the criticism by self-censoring the commercial. And it was one the rare times when censorship actually made something better...

Before we get to the modified commercial, let's face this fact: no intelligent person actually wants censorship. What I mean is that while we might agree that children shouldn't see things like hardcore German bondage porn or Nancy Grace, no reasonable person thinks those things shouldn't be allowed to exist, if that's what you're into. Further, I think that most of us in the ideological middle of America wouldn't mind our broadcast TV censorship laws loosened a little bit.

Loosening censorship is important because, beyond the political ramifications, it adversely affects any art that's trying to be true-to-life. For instance, [SPOILER ALERT] two weeks ago on 'Mad Men', Don Draper responded to the news of Anna's sickness with two words: "Cancer. S---." Why? Because that's what real people say when they hear "cancer". If the show had been on a traditional network, Don would have been forced to say something like "Cancer. Holy canoli."

But while we can all agree that censorship makes real life harder to depict (and naked boobs almost impossible to see without an expensive cable package or internet connection), there are some rare instances where the roadblocks of censorship, either self-imposed or dictated by law, force a TV show or commercial to find a creative solution to get its point across. It's then -- and only then! -- that we benefit artistically from censorship.

Which brings us back to the Dodge chimp commercial. Chrysler's solution to the problem wasn't to pull the commercial: they simply digitally removed the chimp from the ad. The new spot is filmed exactly the same way, but now it's an invisible chimp in a visible Evel Knievel costume blowing up the confetti.

As 'Garfield minus Garfield' has taught us, any bit of hack humor involving an animal always becomes infinitely funnier when that animal is removed. Thus, PETA's protest and Chrysler's self-censorship managed to take a bit of hoary ape-based "comedy" and turn it into a surreal internet semi-sensation.

There are some other examples of this.

'South Park'

In 2006 after Dutch newspaper Jyllands-Posten caused a bit of a kerfluffle (i.e. got thousands of militant Muslims contemplating murder) by printing a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed, Comedy Central decided to prohibit 'South Park' from doing the same thing. The internal controversy at the network inspired to Matt Stone and Trey Parker to pen 'Cartoon Wars Part 2' as a response. It's a shame that we never got to see what they intended to show, but the censorship led to one of most satirically sharp 'South Parks' ever produced (and that's saying something).


'Battlstar Galactica' was a gritty military drama that was masquerading as a sci-fi show. The problem in attempting to capture military-style speaking is that pretty much everybody in the military swears all the time. I know this because, during my month performing for the troops, I heard F-bombs worked into places that I had never even considered putting them. As a comedian, I bow to the cursing ingenuity of the American fighting man.

But, rather than cutting out the curses, the writers invented a new one: "Frak." Close enough to our favorite four letter F-word to register as a curse, but alien enough that it didn't cause any organizations with "Family" in their names to organize a letter-writing campaign. The world-building of the show benefited from the new word and, as a bonus, it also gave nerds something else to put on T-shirts.

'Arrested Development', 'Jimmy Kimmel', Patton Oswalt

The irony of some censorship is that by not showing something, our imagination immediately makes it millions of time worse (or for the purposes of this list: a million times better). 'Arrested Devlopment' used this to good effect by bleeping out all the swear words, even on the DVDs -- every time a Bluth was interrupted by a bleep, I laughed my bleep off.

Jimmy Kimmel has a running segment called 'This Week In Unnecessary Censorship', in which random words in an curse-free scene are bleeped for no reason. Of course, we fill the blanks in with our own perverted thinking and Kimmel is able to take something benign and make it seem like the dirtiest thing on TV.

Patton Oswalt, on his wonderful CD 'Werewolves and Lollipops', discusses TV executives asking him to change his act, substituting G-rated words for all the R-rated ones. The results, as he points out, are always far, far dirtier -- and funnier. The first time I heard this routine (link NSFW), I laughed so hard I almost lost my goof-juice.

'Any R-Rated Movie'

Any list involving TV and censorship wouldn't be complete without discussing the curious effect of watching "appropriate" words poorly dubbed into otherwise adult films. Usually this just gives you something to laugh at while chemically altered, but once in a while it actually makes the movie better.

For instance, while it would take an act of God to make 'Snakes on a Plane' anything more than a horrible disappointment, the FX edit of the movie goes a long way toward giving it the camp value it was missing in the theaters. I leave you this week with the most famous line from 'Snakes on a Plane' after it passed through the network's censors:

Monkey-fighting snakes indeed.

(Jay Black is a writer and comedian who really hopes you like this column. For more information about Jay or to check out one of his live shows, visit his website at www.jayblack.tv)

[Follow @jayblackcomedy on Twitter]

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Farscape's "frell" worked a lot better than frak, in my opinion. Especially since it actually worked in both serious and humorous contexts ("frell me dead" is one I've used several times, and the Farscape comic book introduced me to "frell me sideways").

August 23 2010 at 8:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Major League was another one that had a hilarious editing scene on TV. The "Strike this mother-f***er out" was changed to "Strike this guy out", with the worst dubbing I've ever heard. It's worth watching the movie get butchered on TV just to see this one scene.

August 23 2010 at 9:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jay Black

Yes! You'd think they'd at least change his name to "Marty" if for no other reason than to maintain the rhyme.

August 22 2010 at 12:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"Kill Bill"-"Your/my name is Buck, and You're/I'm here to Party"??

August 22 2010 at 10:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My favorite was always the TV edit of the first (R rated I'm pretty sure) Police Academy movie.

"Stop or I'll blow your gosh-darn knees off!"

They also did a lot with slowing down footage to make overdubbed dialog match the lip flaps.

Or of course the Back to the Future TV Edit.. "Son of a BUTTHEAD" (They used one clip of Michael J Fox saying Butthead and bleeped anything more severe with it)

August 21 2010 at 1:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Dont forget Frell from farscape!

August 21 2010 at 7:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Err... kerfluffle??? Aarrgghhh too many l's!!!

August 21 2010 at 6:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Arrested Development's bleeps and complicated mouth shielding was too funny. All comedies should do this.

August 21 2010 at 2:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

frak made it to Ghost Hunters common language too.
Grant is commonly heard exclaiming "what the frak?"
But since they are both scyfi shows, I guess it's just crossing the borders like warehouse 13 and Eureka.

August 20 2010 at 11:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In the original Battleship Galactica the word was felgercarb as I remember it.

August 20 2010 at 8:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to miles's comment

Actually, in the original they used frak for the obvious and they used felgercarb in place of shit. The one kind of shocking incident of this use is that they actually let Boxie say them. In 1979 on ABC, that was pretty out there, even if it is frak and felgercarb.

August 21 2010 at 10:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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