Friday, March 24, 2006

More about South Park

In response to Finnegan and Alex (I wrote this a couple of years ago, but it is still essentially true):

Get thee to a Television!

“Whatever, I do what I want!” No, those are not the words of an 800-pound gorilla, although I do wonder how much Eric Cartman actually weighs. The big-boned fourth grader is the speaker in this case, but his words are really the rallying cry for the show in which he stars, Comedy Central’s brilliant animated comedy South Park. South Park, first conceived by Trey Parker and Matt Stone nearly ten years ago, has become the best comedy on television. This comment cannot be taken lightly with The Simpsons still on the air, but South Park has reached remarkable new heights of comedy.

The most amazing thing is that South Park has beaten The Simpsons at its own game in order to surpass it. That game involves the extraordinary ability of a show to appeal to both a smart audience and a dumb audience. In the same episode, South Park makes references to Silence of the Lambs and The Godfather, while focusing the entire effort on the toilet-papering of a house. It does what The Simpsons did well six or seven years ago, before it got obsessed with guest stars, among other things. South Park also has its fair share of guest stars, recently including Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, but they treat these guest stars far differently. Their voices are poor imitations, often performed by Parker and Stone themselves, and the celebrities are almost always mocked rather than revered.

The best thing about the show, whose four stars are a group of fourth-graders in the small town of South Park, Colorado, is its willingness to attack anyone and anything. Parker and Stone are not afraid to base entire shows around personal attacks, including the recent attack on Jennifer Lopez and an earlier episode attacking supposed psychic John Edward. But rather than just saying that these people are stupid and untalented, something that would be all too easy to do, Parker and Stone create elaborate and outlandish situations that more fully illustrate the absurdity of these celebrities.

Much like The Simpsons, South Park is able to use a seemingly ordinary town with seemingly ordinary children to address an incredible variety of social and political issues. Recent episodes have looked at such diverse topics as gang warfare, stem cell research, and the music industry. By using the people of South Park, especially the kids, Parker and Stone have been able to send out a more universal message about each of these subjects, and many more. They add to this by concluding each episode with a sort of moral given by one of the boys, usually Stan, the most “normal” of the bunch. He tells the audience what he has learned, and in turn what they should have learned, a nice way of concluding a half-hour of satire.

South Park may be crude on the surface, both in animation and in language, but this roughness around the edges actually belies the sharp and intelligent writing. South Park has the smartest and most offensive writing on television, daring to go beyond the boundaries that other shows will not even approach. The 100th episode of South Park just aired a few months ago and not only is it clear that the show has gotten better with age, it has only shown signs of improvement and one day soon it will be compared favorably forever with the show that it has overtaken, The Simpsons.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, a few years ago, South Park seemed very close to suffering the fate of the Simpsons, in slowly becoming thralls to the guest-star craze. The fourth episode of the first season, Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride, notably featured George Clooney (who later made an uncredited cameo in South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut) as the voice of Stan's gay dog Sparky. Later that season, Natasha Henstridge (credited as "the chick from Species") appeared as their substitute teacher, and the very next episode featured the voice of Robert Smith.

    The season premiere The season premiere for season 3 starred Jennifer Aniston, and the season premiere for season 5 ("Scott Tenorman Must Die") starred the members of the band Radiohead.

    It could have gone either way. Of course, if it had gone the guest-star-whore way of the Simpsons, then it probably wouldn't have lasted this long--even the Simpsons started to suck by season 9. In other words, thank God they didn't. But it was a close call.