Controversial TV episodes that were banned due to scandal

Even clean-cut shows run the risk of backlash.

Following the airing of the controversial Michael Jackson child abuse documentary, Leaving Neverland, The Simpsons creators have pulled ‘Stark Raving Dad, the episode in which Jackson voices a character, from circulation on TV and on streaming services.

The classic episode from 1991 sees Homer committed to a mental institution, where he meets a character who thinks he is Michael Jackson… and is voiced by the real Michael Jackson. It’s best remembered for featuring the song, “Happy Birthday Lisa,” which was written by Jackson for the episode (although due to contractual obligations with record companies, the singing parts of the episode were performed by a soundalike).

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Following the broadcast of Leaving Neverland, which presents multiple allegations of child abuse by Michael Jackson, The Simpsons executive producer James L. Brooks told The Wall Street Journal, “This was a treasured episode. There are a lot of great memories we have wrapped up in that one, and this certainly doesn’t allow them to remain.”

Here are ten more controversial episodes of some of your favourite TV shows that were pulled off-air in the wake of scandal…

Pokemon: ‘Dennō Senshi Porygon‘ (1997)

In one of the scenes believed to have caused epileptic seizures, Pikachu uses “Thunderbolt” on a cyber missile, causing the screen to flash red and blue rapidly. (YouTube)

It’s the stuff of numerous parodies and urban legends, but the infamous episode of the 90s animation really did sent 685 Japanese viewers to hospital with epileptic seizures. It was caused by the photosensitive visual effects after Pikachu’s ‘Thunderbolt’ attack, which resulted in an intense flashing explosion.

It was never broadcast again after its initial airing in 1997, and led to the popular series taking a four month hiatus from TV.

Friends: ‘The One With The Free Porn‘ (1998)

Chandler and Joey are surprised by what they find on their telly. (Netflix)

Think you’ve seen every Friends episode a hundred times? That probably doesn’t include this one. While flicking through their TV channels, Joey and Chandler discover they get free adult channels on their telly, and vow to never change the channel for fear of losing it.

Because of the reference to porn, censorship led it to originally being broadcast in a post-watershed late night slot, and then barely ever repeated for U.K. audiences in the show’s seemingly endless daytime reruns since. You can watch it on Netflix now at your leisure, where it comes with a 12 age rating.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: ‘Earshot’ (1991)

Danny Strong as Jonathan Levinson in Earshot (Fox)

The Season 3 Buffy episode, which featured a plot around a school shooter, was originally scheduled to air the week after the Columbine High School massacre, but was pulled due to the nature of the story. In the episode, Buffy develops the power to hear what people are thinking, and in the process, overhears the thoughts that someone is planning on killing the students.

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The episode was eventually aired, out of sequence, later in the year.

South Park: Episodes 200 & 201 (2010)

The 200th episode of South Park got the network into a lot of trouble (Comedy Central)

It’s probably not a surprise that ever-controversial South Park has got itself banned before. But usually, it’s not a show’s award-nominated episodes which are buried. Despite being critically acclaimed, with both landmark episodes being nominated for the Prime Time Emmy awards for Outstanding Animated Programme, these high-profile South Park episodes were pulled from digital streaming after complaints about its mentioning and depiction of the prophet Muhammad.

The episodes haven’t been broadcast again since. 200 was pulled from digital streaming a week after it was released, and 201 was never made available – they’re still not available to watch legally online. Meanwhile, episode 200 was banned entirely in Sri Lanka on account of its images of Buddha snorting Cocaine.

Family Guy: ‘Partial Terms Of Endearment‘ (2010)

In the episode Peter quips: “But life is FULL of big decisions – like deciding whether or not to have Indian food.” (Fox)

Though this aired in the U.K. on BBC Three, this banned Family Guy episode has never been shown on its US channel, Fox. With its abortion-centred plot, it was considered too controversial a topic for American audiences. In the episode Lois agrees to carry a baby as a surrogate for an old college friend. When the biological parents die in a car crash, the family must decide what to do about the pregnancy.

The episode was eventually released on DVD in America. “People in America, they’re getting dumber,” said show creator Seth MacFarlane. “They’re getting less and less able to analyse something and think critically, and pick apart the underlying elements. And more and more ready to make a snap judgment regarding something at face value, which is too bad.”

The Simpsons: ‘The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson’ (1997)

Homer gets a surprise. (Fox)

Another Simpsons episode that got pulled from circulation: this opener to the ninth season of the show. In it, the family venture into Manhattan to find their car, which a drunk Barney Gumble has abandoned to be plastered in parking tickets, by the World Trade Centre.

It’s appeared on many ‘Top Simpsons Episodes’ lists, but was pulled from circulation for sensitivity reasons after the 2001 September 11 attacks, due to the Twin Towers’ prominence in the episode. It has since reentered syndication, with some minor edits.

The X-Files: ‘Home’ (1996)

“Home” was the only episode of The X-Files to carry a TV-MA rating upon broadcast and the first to receive a viewer discretion warning for graphic content. (Fox)

This standalone story was so scary it was literally banned from TV. It followed FBI agents Mulder and Scully investigating an isolated, deformed farmer family in a tale of murder and incest, and drew comparisons from some with the most gruesome films of David Lynch. Entertainment Weekly named the creepy episode “one of TV’s most disturbing hours”.

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Due to its graphic nature, ‘Home’ became the first ever X-Files episode to earn a viewer discretion warning, and Fox vowed it would never be repeated on the channel. Nevertheless, it’s since gone on to be included on DVD, and has become a critic and fan favourite, being voted number 1 in FX’s viewer-voted list of all-time top episodes.

Sesame Street: Episode 0847 (1976)

The Wicked Witch returned to give a new generation nightmares (YouTube)

Another episode that was deemed too terrifying for TV – although thankfully, this one wasn’t quite as gruesome. This 1969 episode of Sesame Street featured a guest appearance by Margaret Hamilton, the original Wicked Witch actress from 1939’s The Wizard Of Oz, reprising her character for the educational kids show… unfortunately, she was too terrifying for many young viewers and drew complaints from angry parents. To spare more seriously freaked out children, the episode wasn’t aired again.

Peppa Pig: ‘Mister Skinnylegs’ (2012)

Spiders are our friends. Except when they’re deadly poisonous. (eOne)

Who would have thought an innocent Peppa Pig message could be entirely disastrous to the wrong audience? The usually completely inoffensive cartoon for young children aired an episode where the family befriends a spider, and Peppa learns spiders are nothing to be afraid of. This is good advice if you live in Peppa’s native U.K., but not if you live in Australia, where spiders can definitely hurt you.

Concerned that kids would attempt to befriend deadly spiders, it’s been banned from being broadcast in Australia ever since.

Seinfeld: ‘The Puerto Rican Day’ (1998)

It’s not the only time Kramer got himself into trouble. (NBC)

Set during the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York, this episode of the iconic US comedy not only features negative stereotypes of Puerto Rican people, but also sees Kramer accidentally set a Puerto Rican flag on fire and then get attacked by an angry mob.

Sparking protests outside NBC’s Rockerfeller Centre in New York, NBC made a formal apology and removed it from reruns.