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The 7 Most Offensive TV Shows Ever

Forget "Dads" — remember UPN's slavery sitcom? What about the British Hitler-at-home laughfest?
 
 
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“Dads” has been driving TV critics up a wall since before it first aired for general consumption.

The Seth MacFarlane-created Fox sitcom, which has gleefully advertised its bad reviews, delved in its pilot into racial and sexual stereotypes, culminating in a series of jokes mocking Asian women’s sexuality and Asian men’s, well, manhoods.

Broadcast TV has gotten more staid over the past decades, as racy stuff has moved to cable (where raunchy humor, nudity and violence are often deployed for their own sake, because the shows’ creators can). “Dads” comes as a shock because it’s so unusual in a TV universe where UPN is gone and Fox specializes in music competitions and light sitcom fare, but it’s part of a long tradition of shows attempting to push the envelope and falling on their faces.

Naturally, testing the boundaries is what great TV does well — from the explosive and edgy humor of “All in the Family” or early “Simpsons” episodes to the violence of “Breaking Bad” to the florid sex of “Game of Thrones.” (Well, that sometimes goes overboard, but it’s at least somewhat within the context of a compelling story.) But a lot of TV simply flouts convention to get people talking about how controversial the show is; it’s not edifying, not fun, and it lacks a point of view. Here are a few of the progenitors to “Dads” — some shows that tried to create a scandal without the quality to back it up.

"The Playboy Club"

This short-lived NBC drama sought to bring the period allure of “Mad Men” to broadcast TV. Unfortunately, all the creators learned from AMC’s hit was that subjugation of women was sexy and titillating; practically interchangeable women wiggled for the male stars. Hugh Hefner, narrating the show, paid tribute to the degree to which the women of the Playboy Club were able to reinvent themselves and live out fantasies, which is definitely one angle. The show was canceled before Gloria Steinem could make a guest appearance.

“The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer”

This UPN comedy about a kidnapped black British man who becomes butler to Abraham Lincoln bears plot similarities to the upcoming film “12 Years a Slave” -- decidedly not a comedy. Even aside from the obvious discomfort of centering a comedic show around the slave trade, there were ancillary jokes about the 16th president trying “telegraph sex” and dressing in drag. The show, protested by civil-rights groups before it even aired, was swiftly canceled.

“Heil Honey I'm Home!”

The U.S. doesn’t have a monopoly on gross TV. This 1990 British sitcom made fun of the conventions of midcentury American TV -- by depicting Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun as a typical upwardly mobile urban couple, living next to a Jewish family they just can’t get along with! Third Reich satire is definitely possible -- just ask Mel Brooks -- but it has to be done well.

“Work It”

This sitcom took as its premise that men simply aren’t hireable in a gynocentric workforce, then forced its male protagonists into unflattering, goofy drag, lampooning both genders in an ugly, unfunny depiction of the gender divide that wasn’t rooted in the facts on the ground. It was canceled some 10 days after its premiere -- but maybe would have worked 10 to 15 years earlier!

“Homeboys in Outer Space”

The title says it all -- this mid-1990s UPN entry featured the grossest of racial stereotypes in its depiction of a lowrider-style vehicle flying around the galaxy’s outer reaches.

 
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