Brought to you by the Parents Television
The 2007 Fall
Season: Adventures in Perversity
In this new
column, the Parents Television Council seeks to keep parents and other viewers
informed about harmful or questionable prime-time programming.
As 2007’s fall
television schedule premieres, it is clear that the new TV season will be
characterized by new lows in “entertainment.” Of particular concern is the large
amount of extremely graphic violence on display.
In its opening weeks CBS has reveled in showing graphic violence,
including violence in which children are the victims. On the September 23rd
episode of Cold Case, three 10-year-old boys are shown at the bottom of
an empty swimming pool. All have duct tape over their eyes and have been beaten
to death, blood covering their bodies and clothes. A flashback later shows one
of the boys’ fathers flying into a rage and beating the boys to death with a
flashlight as blood spatters everywhere. The man’s wife – the mother of one of
the boys – helps her husband cover up the murder.
CBS also premiered a new series that is equally bloody, though in a
different way. The new series Moonlight, which premiered September 28th,
is yet another program featuring a “heroic” vampire. Obviously in such a
supernatural setting blood will be everywhere – but it is shown in an extremely
graphic fashion. The lead character drinks it from glasses and injects it
directly into his body, loitering around the corpses in a morgue to obtain it.
Additionally, the violence in the series is downright ferocious, with a bloody
battle between vampires featuring faces being slashed, necks being bitten and
other bloody wounds. The fight concludes when the “hero” stabs his wife through
the chest with a stake, then immolates her by setting the room aflame.
As if such supernatural-themed gore were not sickening enough, the September 23rd
season premiere of CBS’ legal drama Shark showed more “realistic”
violence. In the episode, police find the severed head of a mobster on a
chess table in a park. Blood oozes from the frayed edges of the man's severed
neck, and a chess piece has been shoved in the gangster’s mouth.
Not to be outdone, Fox’s season premiere of its forensic crime drama
Bones two days later proved even more gruesome. After a human skull is
thrown from a bridge and crashes through the windshield of a car, Bones and her
team realize that there is a murderous secret society of cannibals at work. As
Bones interrogates the cannibal, the viewer is treated to this appetizing
cannibal: "It's not like chicken or pork you know. People always say that.
It's more like beef. The face is a little sweeter. More tender.
The younger the person, the better. Except for babies. Babies taste kind of like
As the detectives grow closer to uncovering the entire cult, the captured
cannibal suffers a brutal death in prison. His corpse is shown tied to the bars
of his jail cell naked, with a large knife sticking out of his chest.
Nor is Bones
the only Fox series which wallows in sadism and gore. As if the previous
season of the network’s returning series Prison Break did not feature
enough gratuitous violence when its characters were in an American prison, now
they are confined to a corrupt penitentiary in Panama, where the most violent
inmates run the prison. Disagreements are resolved by having the arguing cons
fight to the death. The arguing prisoners brutally beat one another, ending when
one prisoner’s neck is graphically broken. The dead con’s fly-covered corpse is
later shown lying in the mud. (For more detail on this episode see the PTC’s
Worst TV Show of the Week column.) In subsequent weeks the leading convict
also routinely orders others tortured and killed, showing kneecaps being broken
and forcible drowning. And on Fox’s new drama K-Ville, gun
violence is shown with a level of graphic detail rarely seen on broadcast
television before. Gunshots are shown graphically penetrating and blowing apart
kneecaps and chests, as blood sprays everywhere.
But while the
networks’ use of violence has been extreme, it is nothing compared to their
treatment of sex.
Sex has dominated
television programming for years; but until recently, most such depictions,
while steamy, have been fairly straightforward. Not anymore. No longer is
showing people having sex considered sufficient; such mundane activity is now
considered passé. Increasingly, there is an emphasis on bizarre forms of sexual
transvestitism and prostitution seem to have a particular fascination for ABC.
The network’s new program Big Shots is essentially HBO’s Sex and the
City for men -- or rather, for people who think that men talk like the women
on Sex and the City. On the program’s September 27th premiere
a group of male friends chatter endlessly about having sex with any woman who
crosses their path. One character boasts, "We're men. When it comes to sex,
money, or criminal proceedings, we're allowed to lie." Another man reveals that
his wife is having an affair, prompting Duncan to comment, "Rite of passage for
men. Loss of virginity, first threesome, the discovery of a cheating wife. The trifecta." Later, Duncan relates how a prostitute performed a sexual favor on
him in a truck stop restroom, as a flashback shows the prostitute on her knees
while Duncan's foot rocks back and forth and he moans. They are interrupted by a
police officer, and as Duncan is being escorted out he turns around and sees the
prostitute using the urinal, making it clear that Duncan was receiving oral sex
from a male transvestite. ABC’s Dirty Sexy Money, which premiered
September 26th, also featured an aspiring U.S. senator who is having an affair
with a transgender lover, and who tries to persuade his lawyer to bribe the
lover into leaving. And the night before, the network’s sex-obsessed Boston
Legal featured William Shatner’s Denny Crane character soliciting sex from a
prostitute, who was in reality an undercover police woman.
Another area of
apparent fascination for the networks is male ejaculatory fluid. CBS’ new
comedy The Big Bang Theory, premiering on September 24th,
followed two main characters, Sheldon and Leonard, as they visited a
Leonard: "Is this the high IQ sperm bank?"
Nurse: "If you have to ask, maybe you shouldn't be here."
Sheldon: "I think this is the place."
The nurse gives them forms to fill out.
Sheldon: "I don't think I can do this."
Leonard: "Are you kidding, you're a semi-pro."
Later, the duo
tells a woman that they had tried “masturbating for money.” But the champion
program for obsession with semen was ABC’s Private Practice, a
spin-off of the hit medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. The program’s September
26th premiere featured a storyline in which a man attempts to donate
sperm but dies in the process, following which his mistress demands the dead
man’s sperm be used to impregnate her. (This episode was covered in more detail
in the PTC’s
Misrated column.) In the course of the episode, references to sperm are made
some 22 times. As cable humorist Joel McHale said on E!’s The Soup, “The
most popular show with women in their thirties is written by 12-year-old boys.”
Many new shows
featured sexual references that moved from the bizarre and adolescent to the
downright disturbing – namely, the idea that incest is humorous. On the October
1st premiere of the CW’s new comedy Aliens in America,
the Paladino twins confront Justin on his first day of school and note that
Justin’s sister Claire has developed over the summer:
Justin: "Where'd what come from?"
Paldino twin: "Her giant breasts…Are you on that?"
Justin: "My sister?"
Paldino twin: "Oh you gotta get on that."
Other twin: "Man, if she was our sister I'd be up in her room every night!"
Similarly, on the September 27th episode of ABC’s Ugly
Betty, the character Amanda is disgusted by the idea of incest, but Marc
finds it appealing:
Amanda: "If Bradford is my father; that makes Daniel my brother, who I slept
with...a lot. And that's the kind of dirty that don't wash clean."
Marc: "Okay, first of all, he'd be your
half-brother...already a little better, right? And second, I gotta say, kinda hot."
This program, which
ABC has consistently pitched as being a cheerful family-friendly comedy,
also featured implications of group sex, references to “lethargic sperm” and
heavy product-placement for Victoria’s Secret.
Unsurprisingly, it was Fox’s feculent Family Guy that managed the
largest number of filthy and downright disgusting sex jokes. On the September 30th
episode daughter Meg gets a job as a phone sex operator – and is patronized by
her own father; a female medical patient complains to her doctor, “You said you
were going to cure my cancer, but all you did was rape me. I'm starting to think
I don't have cancer at all," to which the doctor responds, "Well, you're right
about the rape part. But I'm sorry, you still have cancer"; and after it is
implied that Jillian is having sex with the family dog, baby Stewie begs the dog
to have sex with him, too.
All of the
foregoing is in addition to the usual network emphasis on teenage sex. One such
scene occurred on the September 25th premiere of CBS’ new drama Cane,
during which a teenaged boy necks with his girlfriend on a couch. When the boy’s
mother enters, the girl covers herself and reaches for her underwear. Only then
does the viewer realize that the two have been having intercourse throughout.
Not to be outdone, on September 19th CW
premiered Gossip Girl, a program based on a series of “young adult” books
by Cecily von Ziegesar,
which glamorize wealthy teenage girls who smoke marijuana, drink and have casual
sex. On the program’s premiere episode, the teenaged Chuck leers at a girl while
proclaiming, "Serena looked f'ing hot last night. There's something
about that much perfection. It needs to be violated!" Suiting his action to his
word, Chuck attempts to rape Serena (while flashbacks are shown of Serena having
sex with another boy on a bar stool). Serena escapes, but Chuck is not deterred
and later tries to assault another girl, Jenny. When Jenny’s brother interrupts
him, Chuck excuses his attempted rape by saying, "It's a party. Things happen.”
As Jenny’s brother drives him off, Chuck yells at Serena, "Your life is over,
slut. Remember, I know everything!" The program continued its tawdry take on
teens on the September 26th episode, showing Chuck awakening in bed
with two girls, after an implied threesome. He also gives Blair the key to his
room so that she can lure Nate there, boasting that he is proud to play “even a
small part in [her] deflowering.” After Nate and Blair are interrupted during
sex, Chuck congratulates Blair for having sex with her best friend’s boyfriend.
Each episode also included various other scenes of teens drinking, smoking pot
and having sex. The September 26th episode ended with the voice-over
narrator declaring, “some might call this a fuster-cluck” – an apt description,
as CW has consistently promoted Gossip Girl as its top new show
Transvestite prostitutes. Jokes about incest. Severed heads. Cannibalism. These
are just a few of the delightful treats the networks served up for viewers in
recent weeks. If this is what the networks are using to attract viewers to their
new programs at the beginning of the fall season, what will the rest of
the year be like?
TV Trends: This column was
compiled from reports by the Parents Television Council’s Analysis staff: Aubree
Bowling, Caroline Schulenburg, Josh Shirlen, Katherine Kuhn and Keith White,
under the direction of Dr. John Rattliff.