In the battle against the increasingly horrifying status quo in the US today, The Good Fight has been landing a few good punches lately – literally when it comes to that recent episode about punching Nazis. So it was inevitable that sooner or later one of those punches would land a little too close to home.
A subplot in this week’s episode focuses on the way that US corporations are increasingly treading lightly – or just bending over backwards – to avoid offending China and losing access to their lucrative market. Fictional tech company ChumHum wants access to China’s markets; their argument is that censorship is simply the cost of doing business there and if they’re not willing to go along, they’ll be frozen out of the market.
So when the episode cut to a placard reading “CBS has censored this content”, many viewers (and some recappers) thought they were making a joke.
They weren’t. CBS really did censor the episode to avoid offending China.
The censored segment was this week’s “Good Fight Short”, a regular musical cartoon that provides background information (and a catchy tune) on topics like impeachment, Russian troll farms and neo-nazi Frog memes. The segment had been written and animated, the song recorded and gone through all the various corporate oversights. Then, around two weeks before the episode aired, CBS got cold feet.
Speaking to The New Yorker, The Good Fight showrunners Robert and Michelle King said their first instinct when they heard the segment wouldn’t appear was to quit the show. Eventually a compromise was reached: they’d stay on board, and CBS would agree to them running a placard showing they’d been censored.
The original plan was to leave it up for the full 90 seconds; the Kings later felt that would be a bit much for audiences to take, only to later realise the shorter appearance led many viewers to think it was a joke.
“It did not occur to me that people would think that it was a joke – until, literally, we saw our family this weekend and people didn’t realise it had happened,” Michelle King said.
For their side of the story, CBS said in a statement to Variety that “We had concerns with some subject matter in the episode’s animated short. This is the creative solution that we agreed upon with the producers.”
Exactly what was in the short remains a mystery; while it’ll no doubt turn up online eventually, so far it’s been kept firmly under wraps. What has been revealed is that the song (titled “Banned in China”) references the fact that the Kings’ previous series The Good Wife was itself banned in China, a discussion of how media companies censor themselves to appeal to China, and a list of things which have been banned there, including Winnie-the-Pooh (who supposedly resembles the Chinese Premier) and the letter ‘N’, which was linked to Tiananmen Square.
Chinese state censorship is notoriously hard to predict (which is presumably the point; if you don’t know exactly what will get you banned, you’re much more likely to act conservatively). But numerous US series have had plotlines critical of China, and the rest of this particular episode of The Good Fight aired without edits. It seems at least possible that CBS’s concern was that a 90-second musical cartoon attacking China was the kind of thing that might go viral – and stir up real trouble for the network.
It’s unlikely this censorship will harm the show in any long-term way. The Kings have made clear they’re still committed to it – and to pushing boundaries with a series that’s been confronting the madness of the Trump era with increasingly provocative storylines.
In episode 5 it looked at the morality of punching Nazis (their conclusion: go for it); last week’s episode also features a Milo Yiannopoulos–like figure, some thinly veiled criticism of Google’s supposedly shelved Dragonfly project, and an impassioned speech about the Chinese oppression of the Muslim Uighur people.
Against that backdrop, CBS’s censoring makes the show’s point almost as well as any musical number. And with The Good Fight already renewed for a fourth season, they’re not going to stop fighting any time soon.
Watch the censored episode of The Good Fight (Wednesdays at 9:35pm on SBS) at SBS On Demand:
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