I remember a day when The Simpsons was controversial.
There was a time when people would gnash their teeth over Bart's inappropriate behavior and Homer's penchant to strangle the lad. I recall news stories and even a protest or two.
Now, of course, The Simpsons is considered by many to be solid family entertainment—a sweet (if sarcastic) look at all that makes America's nuclear units the nutty parfait they are. And sometimes, looking back on those days of outrage in the early 1990s, I wonder: Has The Simpsons gotten better? Or does it just look better by comparison?
A powerful argument for the latter may be Fox's Animation Domination High-Def.
Called ADHD for short, this new entertainment venture started off on the Internet as a cache of unrelated, often NSFW (not safe for work) animated shorts. Now Fox has found a home for it on the telly—an hour-long block after (but not too far after) Saturday night's primetime programming. The 10- to 12-minute cartoon featurettes will apparently rotate in and out of the lineup with the idea that some could become their own primetime shows. Just like The Simpsons. (Fox's website suggests that "Axe Cop" and "High School USA!" will be featured throughout the rest of 2013, then replaced by two others.)
The Parents Television Council, after watching some very crude initial offerings on the Internet, called the snippets "horrifically graphic, ultra-violent, sexually explicit and profanity-laden." And, indeed, ADHD is plenty bad—often far worse than even the already repugnant Family Guy.
"High School USA!" is particularly troubling. It's a tweak of the innocent Archie comics of yesteryear, with high schoolers graphically reveling in sex, drugs and bad behavior—all with a satirical tongue in cheek, of course, but without a discernible moral anywhere. "Axe Cop" is less repugnant—reliably rated TV-14 rather than the TV-MA that's been assigned to "High School"—but it's hardly family-friendly viewing material. The stories (which we're told sprout from the mind of artist Ethan Nicolle's 5-year-old brother, Malachai) are violent, almost always free of any real positive message and sometimes revolting: A recent episode featured the titular Axe Cop battling an army of self-aware feces.
It could get worse. Fox, it seems, is keeping some of its most objectionable cartoons off the television and on the Internet for now (where, ironically, they might be more easily seen by youngsters). Shorts featuring "Scientifically Accurate Spider-Man" (a nude webslinger who spews webs from his rectum) and "My Little Cowboys" (a riff on My Little Ponies featuring partially nude decaying corpses, according to the PTC) are not yet on the tube.
But could they get there? The PTC believes so. In an article posted on the PTC website, Christopher Gildemeister writes, "Fox wants nothing more than to push this gore- and nudity-soaked, profanity-laden, utterly depraved trash at children. … And, ultimately, the block will also appear on prime-time TV. Oh, not this year, and maybe not for a couple of years; but Fox's own chairman has stated his determination to bring content like "My Little Cowboys" and "Scientifically Accurate Spider-Man" to prime time, where it will be viewed by millions of impressionable children. Remember: when Family Guy started, it too was intended for adults; and now, it airs in prime time, with Fox boasting that it is one of the top shows viewed by kids.
"If Fox gets its way, in just a few years from now, pre-teen children will be lured in by the sight of beloved children's icons like My Little Pony, Pokémon, and Spider-Man—and then exposed to full-frontal nudity, exposed genitals, dismembered female corpses, and sickening levels of violence and extreme content … all at the 'editorial discretion' of Fox."
I hope the PTC is wrong. But if executives there believe High School USA! may be just about ready for primetime, it gets pretty hard to quibble.
High School USA!: "Adderall/Sexting"
Everyone's horrified that Blackstein doesn't have a club to put on his applications, so he pretends to be gay to join the gay club. "Adderall" then shows his parents weeping joyfully upon learning about his newfound sexual orientation, and his popularity skyrockets, particularly with girls who'd never paid attention to him before. (They say really crude things about now wanting him sexually.) Blackstein is amazed to learn that being gay wasn't always so cool.
Gags involve kids abusing Adderall, and a tricycle-riding tot complains that he can't drink when he takes the pills. We see and hear several crude jokes related to homosexuality. Characters talk about taking peyote and scalping people. They say the s-word (which is left unbleeped), "a‑‑" and "h‑‑‑." God's name is misused.
In "Sexting," Brent sends a girl a picture of his penis. The pic is then forwarded to everyone at school, and Brent is mocked because of his shape. Marsh decides to correct the problem by encouraging all the guys in high school to sext pictures of their own penises. Everyone does so but Marsh, and before it's all over, there are scenes of public masturbation and graphic talk about erections. As the credits roll, we see slews of the episode's sexts, critical parts covered by black boxes. And earlier, naked guys run around a dressing room (with parts of their backsides sometimes visible). We're also shown a girl going to the bathroom. Characters say "b‑‑ch" twice and misuse God's name a half-dozen times.
Axe Cop: "An American Story/Zombie Island … in Space"
In the first mini-episode, "An American Story," we hear about Axe Cop's ancestor, Book Cop, and his family's ancient mission to protect the Secret Attack Almanac from the king of England. The king kills an underling via acid and sharks (and we see the man dissolve in the acid before the shark comes along and chomps on him).
That's pretty much all the "story" we need to convey here. The rest is just gratuitous content: Thousands of soldiers die when Book Cop lifts up a huge swath of earth and crushes them. Others die in fiery conflagrations or from poisonous waves. A book kills a guy when it pierces his head. Picnickers die from eating poisoned cake. An eagle-person hybrid dies from a cannonball.
In "Zombie Island … in Space," zombies kill and eat a guy, and their resulting feces take over the zombie colony. Then the excrement travels to earth, marries a queen and uses a magic scepter to make everyone in the world defecate—thus creating an army of super-poo. A battle ensues, and during the melee (and during others, too) zombies are beheaded and feces stomped on. We hear "bloody" and "h‑‑‑."