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“Contains some outdated humour”

As a family we have started to watch “3rd Rock from the Sun” on More4, Channel 4’s free streaming service. It calls itself “the world’s biggest free streaming service”. I caught most episodes of this US sitcom when they were first broadcast, from 1996 onwards, and again on one of the comedy channels from around 2005, just after my son was born.

I have great affection for the early series of “3rd Rock”. The premise offers so much scope: four aliens settle on earth and take on human identities to try and fit in, and to observe how things work. A topic like ethnicity could be examined in 22 minutes from the perspective of characters who think that all humans look the same.

Another early episode looked at humour, the aliens trying to work out why some things are funny and others are not, a potential minefield for a comedy show. Interestingly, the warning messages at the start of some episodes as they’re streamed now include, “Contains some outdated humour”. I’m not sure what we’re being warned about, but Series 1 is certainly ruder than I recalled, lots of double entendres and references to body parts as the main characters get used to their new forms.

The issue of “outdated humour” is more relevant than it used to be, thanks to streaming services. Last year “The Germans”, the “Fawlty Towers” episode that contained the line “Don’t mention the war”, was removed from the catch-up service UKTV. In the words of this piece from the Guardian it became “the latest classic British TV programme to be taken down from a BBC-owned streaming service, as broadcasters continue to conduct a reappraisal of old content”.

According to the article, it is “under review because the episode contains ‘racial slurs’”. That seems sensible enough to me. I can recall the racist words used by the Major and don’t need to hear them again, although I could if so inclined. I have the entire “Fawlty Towers” collection (all 12 episodes) on DVD, so can watch “The Germans” in its original form whether or not it’s on UKTV.

The piece also tells me that “Little Britain”, “Love Thy Neighbour” and “Till Death Us Do Part” are unavailable on services like UKTV and BritBox, which is no surprise. I have no desire to watch any of them again. We are near the end of Series 2 of “3rd Rock From the Sun”. None of the humour strikes me as particularly outdated just yet. On previous viewings my enthusiasm for the show waned in the later series. There weren’t as many laughs in, for example, Sally and Donny’s relationship as there had been in all the earlier interactions. If we don’t make it through all 139 episodes this time round it probably won’t be because of “outdated humour”. It will be because the later series weren’t quite so funny.


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