By Paula Hendrickson
If you thought loudmouth bully Eric Cartman couldn’t act any worse, imagine America’s most obnoxious child as a teenager. Thankfully, as South Park enters its 13th season, Cartman, Stan, Kyle and Butters will still be grade-schoolers in the whacked-out world of South Park. And Kenny keeps returning from the dead (although not as often as he did in the first few seasons).
South Park has always disregarded the boundaries of good taste, which is precisely why it’s so funny. Whether the show is skewering Scientology, lampooning celebrities, or satirizing world politics, one thing is clear: everyone is fair game. Over the years, they’ve taken on sitting U.S. presidents, Oprah, Barbra Streisand, Tom Cruise, Michael Jackson, Mel Gibson, Saddam Hussein and Hillary Clinton, to name but a few.
Most impressive is how timely the episodes are. What’s breaking news one week could well find its way into the following week’s episode. Most animated series have lag times of a year or more, but South Park’s computer animation allows creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to rush production turn-around time. Also helpful is the fact that the two of them voice most of the characters.
I love South Park because it somehow balances insightful parody with sophomoric gross-out humor. Who doesn’t surprise themselves when laughing out loud at more than one horribly-offensive gag per episode? That said, South Park is not for everyone.
Don’t watch South Park if you’re easily offended. If you don’t like respected figures being pilloried, don’t watch. If you can’t laugh at your own foibles, don’t watch. As juvenile as many of the jokes are, the subject matter is usually very adult in nature.
Comedy Central has been airing a lot of older South Park episodes lately, out of order, so unless an episode is tied to a specific real world event—like Britney Spears’ breakdown and head-shaving incident a couple years ago, or when they ridiculed a Family Guy episode banned by FOX—you don’t always realize how old or new they are.
Take an older episode like the one where the boys TP their art teacher’s house. The show uses allusions to everything from Silence of the Lambs and The Godfather to turn a common childhood prank into something much broader and absolutely hilarious. When Cartman worries that Kyle’s going to rat them out, he decides to kill Kyle, but the only weapon he can afford is a whiffle bat. That episode is just as funny today as when it first aired six years ago.
Whatever antics are in store for Cartman and his crew in season 13, be assured there will be plenty of crude jokes and offensive plotlines. After all, South Park is that wildly odd place where cartoon kids can magically, if not accidentally, solve world problems by taking matters into their own hands.
South Park season 13 starts Wednesday, Oct. 7, on Comedy Central at 9 p.m.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the October 7-13, 2009 issue