CBS may clean up with its prime-time comedies, but if the volume of complaints received by the Federal Communications Commission is any indication, many Americans would like to wash the network’s mouth out with soap.
According to documents unearthed by the Government Attic website via the Freedom of Information Act, the CBS comedies 2 Broke Girls and Two and a Half Men have generated reams of informal FCC complaints, the majority of which have to do with viewers’ concerns with sexual innuendo and coarse language.
While much of the criticism is justified—both prime-time series traffic in crude, single-entendre jokes about genitalia and their various manipulations/intersections—some of the written communiqués filed away by the FCC are (unintentionally) funnier than anything you’ll see or hear on either show.
For example, on Feb. 19, 2013, a CBS viewer from Brooksville, Fla., wrote to register his or her concern about a scene in which “THREE DOLLS AND PUPPETS WITH NO CLOTHES ON” were used to demonstrate “A GRAPHIC SEXUAL ACT (FUCKING).” (All-caps style and illuminating parenthetical courtesy of the aggrieved viewer.)
Then there’s the Nov. 20, 2012, submission from a viewer in Hayward, Calif., who ends a catalogue of offensive references (“condoms, sluts, getting laid, getting wood, dropping wood & sex with 2 redheads”) with a terminal period that is immediately succeeded by the word “Bastard.” Whether this final salvo was meant to be grouped with the proximal list or was merely an expression of unfettered disgust remains a mystery.
Other curiosities include a disapproving comment about 2 Broke Girls’ “derogatory portrayal of a religious nun” (secular nuns are fair game); a number of complaints about a Bar Mitzvah spoiled by the utterance of the word “ass;” two context-free snippets of dialogue (“the glaze was not on the ham before we had sex” and “you’ve made a vagina”); and the plaintive, and wholly understandable lament, “It’s 8:30 at night on a Monday and I have to explain to my child what ‘fingering’ is?”
Many of the Two and a Half Men complaints are similarly diverting, largely because of the respondents’ erratic phrasing. A viewer from Greensburg, Penn., was displeased to see “[Ashton] Kutcher continually mocking an erection under his blanket,” while another citizen from nearby Pittsburgh warns that “we will probably see LIVE TIME FORNICATION on prime-time programming” if CBS keeps up its Thursday night shenanigans.
Back in October 2011, a viewer from Nickerson, Kan., forever ruined PB&J sandwiches with the haunting sentence fragment, “Also an animal eating peanut butter off Alan’s balls,” a semantic horror rivaled only by the Wisconsin resident who frowned upon a reference to “watching Walrus[es] masterbate at the zoo.” (For the record, the single most misspelled word to be found in the FCC documents is “masturbate” and its many variants.)
A number of viewers offered suggestions on shows that could be used to replace Two and a Half Men (“I want Family Matters and Full House,” wrote one Californian, while another Golden Stater demanded that CBS “bring back Leave it to Beaver!,” a suggestion that almost certainly would be met with a smutty rejoinder by Jon Cryer or Kat Dennings.
Lastly, one viewer from Muskogee, Okla. seemed to have no beef with the content of Two and a Half Men; instead, he or she was perturbed by the overabundance of commercial messages in the show: “What was indecent was the local station running a barrage of advertising logos during the entire program in addition to the normal commercial breaks.”
While these are only the latest FCC filings published by Government Attic, the gold standard for baffling viewer complaints remains the file on The Simpsons that was released in October. While only 38 informal complaints were logged between 2010 and 2013, the gonzo hilarity on display is unrivaled by any other show’s dossier.
“One line was about whipping someone’s toosh,” reads the terse complaint from a Chicagoan back in October 2010, which came on the heels of another Windy City missive from a viewer who “heard them use the ‘A’ word.” (Aikman? Adalian? Acidophilus?) Meanwhile, a handful of notes were sent to register disapproval of Homer Simpson’s oft-glimpsed buttocks.
“A family cartoon show, Mr. Simpson was in his house totally nude & went outside naked while his neighbor was watering her grass. Then his wife ran out of the house trying to cover him with a towel,” writes a concerned viewer from Tulsa, Okla., in a letter that seems as if it were torn from the pages of Penthouse Forum. A second missive from Tulsa finds fault with Homer’s decision to pose for Playgirl, a scenario that never actually played out. (Homer does pose in his underpants for a boudoir photographer in Season 10, Episode 22, while Marge titillates Springfield with an erotic calendar shoot in the fifth episode of Season 21. Marge did appear on the cover of the November 2009 issue of Playboy, and frankly, the less said about that misadventure the better.)
A good portion of the dossier is devoted to complaints about kicks to the groin (a well-aimed Lisa punt leaves her brother Bart in “sexual agony”—yuck), scatological language (“Talking about taking a poop, found this offensive”) and seemingly random suggestions, such as the one in which Fox is advised to “Take This Evil Show Off The Air Only To Get Small Wonder Back Onto The Channel Every Sunday Night.”
Lastly, the longest complaint logged by the FCC hailed from Riverton, Wyo., and was clearly written by a man in the throes of a psychotic episode. “This pertains to things being said that I insist are about Me,” the letter begins, before veering off into digressions about Craig Furguson [sic], Magilla Gorilla, Tyler Perry and someone by the name of Grandpa Kelly, who is said to utter a cryptic “Eeaah.” (“This is not a hoax and has Me angered enough to take matters into My own hands.”)
Other broadcast shows that have been the subject of an unusual number of viewer complaints include Fox’s Family Guy, NBC’s Saturday Night Live and ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. Cable series have also been targeted (The Colbert Report, South Park, The Shield, Mad Men), but given that the FCC does not have the legal authority to regulate cable content—indecency regulation is only applied to broadcast TV—the commission doesn’t formally review any incoming complaints about cable shows.
Each year, the FCC receives hundreds of thousands of complaints about TV content; of these, only a handful result in the issue of a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture. Actual fines, or Forfeiture Orders, are even less common and in recent years most of these have been voided by federal courts or reduced considerably. For example, a $3.61 million fine levied against CBS affiliates that aired a 2004 episode of Without a Trace was settled for $300,000.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out two FCC indecency cases, invalidating a $1.4 million action against ABC for broadcasting a 2003 episode of NYPD Blue that included a few fleeting glimpses of actress Charlotte Ross’ exposed backside, while excusing Fox from having to pony up for a pair of “fleeting expletive” incidents stemming from the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards.
The year before, a federal appeals court put the kibosh on the $550,000 fine the FCC levied against CBS for broadcasting Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show.