OK, I had a post about Doctor Who almost ready to go and then I watched the pilot to Defiance and I figured two sci-fi TV shows in a row might be a bit much and I need to talk about Defiance first because this is important.
Swear properly or don’t swear at all.
The show itself is fine – the pilot was a crude assemblage of clichés* mixed in with advertisements for the related video game, which somehow managed to form into an entertaining whole. But that’s not the important bit. Here’s the important bit.
Fake swearing: there’s no excuse.
The characters in this show say “shit” a lot. Only they don’t say “shit”, they say a word in the made up alien language that sounds enough like “shit” that you know they mean “shit” when they say it, but it isn’t actually “shit” so the show won’t get in trouble for saying “shit” in its timeslot. Fuck that shit. Swear properly or don’t swear at all.
Too often, writers of sci-fi material (not just TV, but that’s where I notice it the most) think they’ve found a clever way of swearing without getting into trouble for swearing – they have alien languages they can co-opt, or maybe the setting is far enough into the future for it to be plausible that there’s new slang and swear words around**. Defiance is particularly grating, since when characters are speaking in the alien language with subtitles, the subtitles don’t translate the swear word, as though it were some completely undecipherable concept and not at all a swear, Mum, honest.
Remember on Friends how Ross and Monica made up a gesture to do at each other in place of giving each other the finger, so they wouldn’t get in trouble with their parents? Which then became a funny way of having the characters flip each other off without actually flipping each other off on prime time TV? That’s what fake swearing is.
Battlestar Galactica fans, this is you when you say “frak”:
*Not the least of which was having a Romeo and Juliet situation and a Lord and Lady MacBeth in the same family. And then the grizzled, nomadic ex-war-hero protagonist shows up in town just in time for the local sheriff to get killed – wonder how that’ll turn out?
**Honourable mention at this point to Firefly, which at least had its characters swear in a real non-English language (and I understand that most of the time they weren’t actually saying “fuck” in Mandarin, just wacky phrases like “Shove All the Planets in the Universe Up my Ass“).