From F-Bombs to Whale Semen: How AMC's Brit Comedy 'Loaded' Was Tweaked for U.S. TV
With the U.K. version featuring a (very) colorful script, producers had to find cunning methods to pass AMC's decency tests, with certain words swapped, entire scenes reshot and an oversized, loudly colored dildo sourced by the props department.
If you’re not allowed to say "f– you," is "suck my balls" a suitable equivalent?
There can’t be many TV executives forced to ponder over such a question, but this was just one of the many swearing dilemmas faced by the team behind AMC's upcoming comedy drama Loaded, which launches on Monday.
A co-production by AMC, the U.K.’s Channel 4, Hillbilly Films and TV and Keshet UK (and based on an Israeli show from Keshet), the eight-parter follows the lives of a group of British 30-somethings (played by Jim Howick, Samuel Anderson, Nick Helm and Jonny Sweet) who become overnight multi-millionaires after selling their mobile phone game (called Cat Factory, if you’re interested) to a major U.S. corporation led by its vp of acquisitions (Mary McCormack). Tapping into the U.K's love of a good swear and the sheer number of words at the average Brit’s disposal, Loaded’s dialog is awash in creative and colorful cursing. While this might be fine for British TV (after 9 p.m. on free-to-air channels), it creates something of a problem for your average U.S. cable network.
"When we started, we got a list from AMC about what and wasn’t acceptable and realized pretty early on that this was going to be tricky," admits Kate Norrish, executive producer and joint managing director at London-based producer Hillbilly.
But with no intention of toning down the U.K. version of the show for more sensitive U.S. ears, it was decided that a tweaked edition would be shipped over the Atlantic. And so, pre-production would see drafts of the script — written by Jon Brown (Veep) — emailed to AMC’s Standards and Practices department, which would respond with their thoughts, thoughts that would — on the first few occasions at least — end up in Norrish’s junk mail after her inbox took offense to their content.
"It was basically just a list of swear words," she laughs. "We’d get it back and somewhere where it would say, ‘Oh my cocking Christ' there’d be a line and it would say 'we’ll need a rewrite' under, quotes, 'cocking'."
While the humble f-bomb may be totally off AMC's menu, other words came with a quota. For Loaded, each episode was given an allowance of 10 uses of "shit."
“And they counted words like ‘arsehole’ and ‘dick’ the same as ‘shit',” adds Norrish, who says that they’d have weekly swear word-filled calls about acceptable alternatives to the foul language in the original British version.
One way of getting around the issue (the quota was used up fairly quickly) was to use anatomically correct terminology. So "dick" would become "penis," and "I feel like I’ve eaten a gallon of whale jizz" (a line after one of the characters tries oysters for the first time) changed to "I feel like I’ve eaten a gallon of whale semen."
When it came to shooting, every other scene featured alternative words, meaning it would have to be shot once using the original script and again with the tweaked lines. As it happens, sometimes the AMC version was actually deemed funnier, finding its way into the final cut of the U.K. edition.
The "f— you"/"suck my balls" question led to one of the more complicated swaps, in which a whole scene in the first episode was re-shot rather than just a line.
To give it some context, one of the newly minted tech entrepreneurs childishly employs a barbershop quartet to announce, via the medium of song, his new success to those who previously doubted him. In the U.K. version, one such individual is greeted at his doorstep by a musical chorus of "f— you," whereby the U.S. audience watching on July 17 will hear "suck my balls" instead.
The same quartet crops up again in the second episode, this time singing by a graveside (of a deceased doubter). “It did actually look much weirder [seeing] them singing ‘suck my balls’ this time,” admits Norrish.
But it wasn’t only the language that faced intense scrutiny, with teams on either side of the Atlantic also forced to discuss the matter of a dildo that the characters keep at their office (for a joke).
“We had long and important phone calls with AMC about what kind of dildo we could buy,” laughs Norrish. “It couldn’t look too real. Multi-colored was considered good. And oversized. So our prop team bought three or four, and we picked the one that we felt was the most suitable.”
This time, however, there wasn’t any need to reshoot with different props for different TV sensitivities. So while the U.S. had "suck my balls" and the U.K. "f— you," alongside numerous other language edits, both sets of audiences will get to appreciate, in the words of Norrish, the comedy of a "giant pink dildo."